Wednesday, October 21, 2009

trick r treat came early for me, and i'm sad to say it was mostly tricks...

today has been frighteningly full of tricks for me...

i will admit that it has been one of those days...i woke with the best of intentions, plugged along at a reasonable pace, checking things off my mental to-do list, making good progress...and then suddenly, everything just seemed to go to hell. with my very long list of objectives/responsibilities before halloween next week, i simply cannot afford to have any surprise disasters. but then, didn't some guy named 'Murphy' write a law about times like these?

the biggest, most significant headache of the day was my brand new sewing machine breaking. my parents bought me a lovely Singer 7470 for my birthday last year, after my last machine broke in a similar, hectic work debacle. it was lovely and new and has a computer and it ran so smoothly. i was busy sewing away, working on my pseudo-niece's halloween costume -- yes, i promised months ago to make her a devil princess costume -- the needle and thread jammed slightly, and when i went to clear it, the machine no longer locks stitches and sews. baffled and frustrated beyond belief, i pulled the machine apart, cleaned the bobbin chamber, and put it all back together. still didn't sew.
sigh. hold back tears.

took everything apart and looked closer. nothing was broken or bent or jammed. i tried calling the 1-800 number for the Singer Customer Service line, and found that they had closed at 4pm. 4pm! what service center closes at 4 o'clock in the afternoon?? the last time this happened, and a machine busted in the midst of a mountain of orders, there was a two month waiting list and $100 minimum fee at every shop in town to examine the machine. i remind myself of that as i
begin to bang my head softly on the machine.
my mom was standing by, since she had graciously agreed to come over and help me put the zipper in (i hate sewing zippers in!). she told me to try calling the sewing center at Joann's and just ask one of the women if they knew what could be wrong, since the machine's manual was of zero help. the lady was quite amiable, and suggested that the machine's timing was thrown off when it jammed. therefore, the top and the bottom stitches were just slipping past each other without locking. wonderful! now how do i fix it?

you can't. only a repairman knows how to adjust the timing. great.
at this point, i couldn't even hold back the tears. i felt so defeated and burnt out. i was just trying to do something nice out of the kindness of my heart because i love halloween, and i want to foster that love in my pseudo-niece and nephew. why does this happen to me, and especially at these most inopportune times? and furthermore, what kind of brand new machine has a common, run of the mill needle jam and then has to be serviced because its timing has been thrown off? do you know how often needles jam? the machine would need to be serviced every other month or more!
so, thankfully, my mother is letting me use her machine to fix my work. and though i have this temporary backup plan, it is so utterly frustrating to have something so simple cause such a nightmare. so who knows how long before the machine can be fixed. the repair shops were all closed by 5 as well, and so i will have to wait until tomorrow to call. keep your fingers crossed for me that it doesn't take a month and a hundred dollars to have it restored to functioning condition...
now that i've wasted enough time venting and whining, i also wanted to share some awesome news that i'm so psyched about. i sold a 'BOO' party hat to a very talented, classy dame who used it as a prop in one of her professional shoots. her aesthetic is tres vintage and so spot on. she has quite the talent for lighting and staging her shots. the overall effect is amazing; her photographs actually appear as though you just uncovered them from a stash of old junk in your grandmother's basement. needless to say, i cannot help but grin and sigh looking through her work. do yourself a favor and check out her blog, Dizzy Dame .

and finally, i sent a shout out through my etsy store for customer photos of my work in their halloween displays. i was hoping to get a ton, so i could see what context other people view my work. well, i got only one response, but the photo is such a charmer! hollie h. sent in a pic of some of my pieces staged in her kitchen. i especially love the party hat on the pig, and the use of the bowls of candy. it is exactly what i had in mind when i began crafting these sweet little treats for people to enjoy at The Crepe Confectionary. so despite the troubling day i had today, i know i'm making people smile with what i i need to just stop, take a deep breath, chant an 'om namah shivayah', and smile along with them...

Monday, October 19, 2009

i've been a wickedly busy witch...

a terror-filled tray of ghastly goodies...

its been a frighteningly full week of flurry and activity here behind the scenes of The Crepe Confectionary. between filling orders for the shop, readying a special, spooky package for my swap partner, and helping with my wonderful sister in law's leukemia benefit, its a wonder i had the energy to crawl into bed last night...and oh yeah, friday was my 5th wedding anniversary!

a creepy coffin full of gothic delights should be making its way to michigan right now...

let's begin with my spine tingling swap package, shall we? i crafted this large coffin gift box out of some cardboard boxes, wrapping it in brown paper and spraying it with a couple of coats of black paint. a gothic gravestone angel, some black roses, and some black satin ribbon adorn the box full of ghastly treats for my Altered Art Junkies Wicked Halloween Swap partner, Debra in michigan. this was my first time participating in an art/craft swap, and i have to say that despite my level of crazy activity and responsibilities this halloween season, i really enjoyed getting a package full of lovely handmade goodies in exchange for my own. it was really neat to see what other people busy their hands with in their creative off time (and i do promise to addend this post soon with pics of what i received from Debra). inside the coffin, i 'upholstered' it with aubergine satin and ribbon trim before adding other handmade tricks and treats. i think my favorite piece ended up being an embellished frame holding a holographic image of a victorian lady that turns evil in the blink of an eye. a tried my hand at sculpting with paper mache clay crete for the first time, in an attempt to sculpt a gravestone angel. honestly, i did not enjoy working with the clay crete, as i found that no matter how careful my mixing and kneading, i could not make the resulting clay smooth. i was really very unhappy with the final texture of the clay, but did find that adding a few coats of acrylic paint helped to minimize that undesirable finish. i also included a canister for her witch's kitchen that i made using a paper mache box and a suitable label. however, for now, i'd like to keep the rest a secret until i know she has received it...

kathleen & my younger brother, craig at her benebration held yesterday at Holiday Valley Ski Resort

the other project consuming my time this past week was my sister in law's first 'benebration' to help launch her foundation for leukemia research, the Gotta Kiss Cancer Goodbye foundation. kathleen was diagnosed with acute lymphoctyic leukemia back in january after an emergency room visit for chest pain. thankfully, her journey thus far has been without complication. however, as a former oncology resident in training, i am full aware of the road that still lies ahead for her. despite her diagnosis, and her life's upheaval, kathleen, being the wonderfully caring and giving person that she is, has begun a foundation to help fight leukemia and fund research. amidst frequent chemotherapy, low white blood cell counts, and side effects, kathleen planned one of the largest, most well-organized charity events i have witnessed. the turn out was astounding (though it is easy to understand why), the donations were plenty, and the love and warmth for kathleen and her family was so evident.
the prize ribbon style badges i made for kathleen's benebration. she gave them to the cancer survivors who were present.

kathleen requested some custom prize ribbon style badges from the shop. she wanted them to say "i KISSED cancer goodbye!", and be made representing her foundation colors -- orange, because it is the color for leukemia, and pink, just because. the glittered, smooching lips are part of her foundation logo. the badges were a big hit. my donation of halloween items from the shop, however, did not (insert chuckle here). kathleen wanted to offer all types of auctions at the event, and boy did she follow through. there was a live auction of high end items (complete with a live auctioneer), a chinese basket auction, a silent auction of items donated from local gift shops, AND an art auction of pieces donated by local artists. i wanted to do my part, so kathleen asked if i would donate some halloween items from The Crepe Confectionary shop for the silent auction. so i whipped up some crafty love for her, boxed it up, and took it down to the benebration.

The Crepe Confectionary display for the silent auction at the "Gotta Kiss Cancer Goodbye" benebration
as someone who loves kathleen dearly, i was thrilled to be able to use my talents to help her cause; but as a new proprietor of a shop, i also knew that this would be an excellent opportunity to showcase my wares and pass out my cards (and kath encouraged this greatly). the display area was tight, but there were plenty of window shoppers. needless to say, when the silent auction closed at 4:30, there was not a single bid on my lot. i was so disappointed...i was hoping it would go for at least a few dollars above the value to contribute to the foundation's start up. not only that, but to know that not a single person had bid on my items was also a blow to my creative self esteem. right away, i began to second guess myself and my abilities, i heard that voice in my head telling me i was crazy to think that i could translate my creative abilities into a career in which could one day support myself and a family.
i did that for about twenty minutes or so, and then i stopped. what i was doing was self-sabotaging, and i recognized it right away. i have a long history of silly sabotage maneuvers in my past, but when i chose to begin walking a different path in life, i saw that this was one character flaw i just had to work on. so what i do, quite honestly, when that little voice in my head starts criticizing and feeling all inferior, is immediately conjure up an opposing little voice (how very george costanza of me, right?). it works like a mantra for me, claming my worries and giving me a moment to put things into perspective. i willfully manufacture a positive attitude in my mind, giving myself that little pep talk i need to pick up and move on to the next task at hand. and of course, i did learn a few things about myself and my business from this experience. i learned that i am capable of cranking out some serious craft in a frighteningly short amount of time when i want to (more like need to). i learned that not every venue or audience is going to be a good fit for you or your product. although i knew i would get adoring compliments (and i did), it was evident that either my customer wasn't in the crowd or it just wasn't the right time or place for what i had to offer. on the bright side, i did make a few new customer connections by handing out my cards. now, had i not donated my efforts and handiwork, it certainly would not have been appropriate to pass out my cards at such an event. craft shows where i'm browsing and shopping? hell yes! benebrations minus the auction donation? hell no.
i took a chance. i crafted my ass off. i contributed to my dear sister in law's smile that day by bringing her good work that she was just smitten with. i further defined my limits and borders as a small, but growing business. i honed my skills, my craft, and my image, and i think that anytime a business owner/craftsperson can do that, it can be invaluable. and finally, i realized, amidst this crazy, hectic pace of life and work and creativity and being, that i am truly, wonderfully happy with my choice to do what i am doing. its not cancer research or internal medicine, i know; been there, done that. but i toiled away happily until 4:30 a.m. and beyond on more than one night this past week, and i haven't done that since my architecture school days. can i do this for the foreseeable future, at this pace, and be happy? yes, i believe quite certainly that i can.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

must be the season of the witch...

anyone who knows me even a little bit, will tell you that i'm absolutely obsessed with halloween. it truly is the high holiday for me, easily surpassing christmas and my birthday. i think i adopted this hallow's eve craze from my cousin, annette, whom i was quite close to as a child. she would take my brother, sister, and i trick or treating every halloween, blocks and blocks in either direction, making sure we hit the pizzerias and the taverns along the way. she liked to scare, and she liked to be scared. it was because of her that i learned to have fun with my fears. as i grew older, i came to appreciate the meaning and the symbolism of the holiday, and as an adult, i truly revel in the spirit of the season.

when it comes to all hallow's eve, i do it all. i carve intricate pumpkins and jack o'lanterns; i sew my own costumes; and i design and create my own decorations and props. i prefer a vintage aesthetic, like the old Dennison Crepe Company decorations, Beistle pieces, and of course, Bethany Lowe's reproductions. for me, crafting the halloween spirit is all about getting back to basics, or highlighting what the holiday is really all about -- the passing of the harvest, the honoring of the dead, witches, jack o'lanterns, and magic.
i have boxes and boxes of halloween decor stacked in the basement, far more than my christmas trimmings. i like to stage little scenes throughout the house...for instance, my living room hearth is where the cauldron and the broom go...the coffee table is stacked with vintage books with creepy titles (including some E.A. Poe, of course) and lots of candles...pumpkins of all shapes and sizes are scattered throughout the house...i hang a long black vintage party dress in the corner of the entry hall, along with a witch's hat, her broom, and a book of shadows. i swap out a lot of my off-season decor for the eerie and the mysterious. decorating for halloween should be about creating a mood, whether it be dark and grotesque or more lighthearted. i find that the best decorated homes are those that pick a theme or a story, and go with it. i am partial to a witchy heritage, so i dress my home as though a witch resides within.

last year's big project was carving my own tombstones. i had stumbled upon a number of really great DIY halloween prop websites, and decided it looked easy enough. in the past, martha stewart has also offered a fairly detailed tutorial on creating your own tombstones from sheets of foam insulation board. i decided that we needed to add a graveyard to our repertoire of exterior halloween decor, so i got to carving.

the project turned out to be a lot easier than i had anticipated. and by that, i mean that it was fairly simple for an average person with reasonable artistic capabilities to get a really believable effect. the foam insulation board is fairly inexpensive (about $8.oo a sheet), and can yield up to three or four gravestones, depending on the size. i have been lucky enough to visit some wonderfully old, early colonial cemeteries in new england, and i have always been in love with the simple, gothic artistry of those early gravestones with their winged angel heads and skulls. an exacto knife was all that was needed, as well as a steady hand, to carve the lettering from a template taped onto the foam board's front. once the lettering was carved and cleaned away, it was a quick coat of grey primer and a wash of black paint to age the stone. as you can see from the pictures, it does not take master carving skills to produce a believable gravestone that can be used from year to year.

my other big project last year was sewing my own 'professional' quality witch costume. i fell in love with a bethany lowe figurine of a witch dressed for a ball, and i just had to recreate the look for myself. so, i bought two different patterns, modified pieces, and sewed my costume from scratch. my mom was a huge help, as this was my first time working with a more advanced pattern. she doubted our collective abilities to create what i wanted, but i told her she was seriously underestimating our skills. the real proof, however, was the final result -- a handcrafted witch's hat, an aubergine peasant blouse, a handcrafted velvet corset, a capelet, and a taffeta ball skirt. it came together just as i had dreamt it up, and i loved wearing it as i passed out candy halloween night. and in case you were wondering, the white spectre in the photo is my husband, the hatbox ghost from the original rendering of disney's haunted mansion. we whipped that one up too, though it was much easier than my witch's costume...

last halloween, like every halloween, was such a whirlwind. its a frantic pace in the month or so leading up to the big night, almost christmas-like in the frenzy only much more fun. each year i like to try to outdo myself, but not at the cost of really celebrating and enjoying the holiday and the season. these days, halloween is as big a capitalist machine as christmas is, so i try to create an atmosphere that is more primitive and natural. this year, with the opening of the shop, and its relative success, my halloween preparation has certainly suffered, but with just about two weeks to go, i'm sure i can cast some spells yet before the hallowed night.

what are your halloween preparations like? does anyone have any october rituals or traditions?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

something old, something new...

its been a very hustling and bustling week here at the crepe confectionary. i've been quite busy assisting my in-laws plan and throw my wonderful sister-in-law's wedding. it was a beautiful, romantic affair held at Asbury Hall, an old methodist church that has been renovated by our own Ani Difranco. its all dark, ornately carved woods and gothic stained glass. the candlelight, together with the great blues band and the merriment of the guests, combined to create such a special atmosphere.
as if my plate were not already brimming, i had this crazy urge to create a little keepsake for the bride and groom...just something that they would put away and maybe pull out one day. perhaps they will stop to look through a memory box full of wedding momentoes as they are cleaning out the basement, and they will find it and recall how magical their wedding day was for them and their family. i stumbled upon a bunch of vintage wedding cake topper novelties when out at the Country Living Fair in Ohio, and it got me to thinking about how sweet custom made wedding cake toppers once were. now, i've only ever really come across them all tattered and worn in an antique shop somewhere, but somehow, they look that much sweeter showing their age. this was the sentiment i wanted to create for my sister-in-law, courtney, and her new husband, mark.
so sometime between maintaining orders and business in the shop, putting together wedding wish trees and carving pumpkins for the reception, and creating 9 bridal shower gift ribbon bouquets (all color coordinated and affixed to handmade bouquet forms) for the bridal party to have for the rehearsal dinner, i put together this charming little cake topper to gift to them the eve of their wedding day. i used a small round paper mache gift box as the base of my topper, covering it with vintage sheet music for a song that was actually named, "i'm glad i'm getting married". i was so excited to have found this in my pile of scrap sheet music, and this really got the fires burning for me.
on the rim of the box top, i applied an aqua satin ribbon and some large gold dresden trim. in addition, i added an extra, smaller layer to the box top, a 'stage', if you will, for the lovebirds. i really wanted to add an arch or something vertical out of wire for the birds, so i began playing with white pipe cleaner and floral wire, twisting and playing with shapes. i finally realized that i really wanted the two lovebirds to be flanked by trees that arched over them. so i wrapped the pipe cleaners in white floral tape, shaping them into trees with branches. just then, i remembered that i had also picked up a really neat little ribbon at the CL Fair (i told you it was that good!) that was simple little leaves. i wrapped it around my tree shapes and voila! i had some sweet little trees for my lovebirds. the birds were bought at Michael's, and i simply covered them in a fine crystal glitter to make them appear more 'vintage'. after adding a few small floral embellishments, i finally added a handsewn crepe rosette with a golden horseshoe dresden to the front of the box. i hung a small banner reading 'happily ever after...' in the trees and another small banner with their names behind the horseshoe.
if i had had the luxury of more time, i would have posted pictures of my steps through the creative process. needless to say, i was very pleased (nearly giddy!) with the outcome, as were the bride and groom. i can't wait to see how it will age with the passing years. i'm thinking of adding a custom version of this heavenly little cake topper to the shop...