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Archive for October, 2013

wip 30-10-2013_01

You know when you’re convinced you’ve already done something, but haven’t?  Er, yes, well that’s why this Wednesday WIP blog post is so late…

So, what have I been up to over the past week?  Quite a lot, although I still have the attention span of a butterfly.  No more tiny stockings or mittens, but I did fall in love with a pattern for a mug sweater and have been trying to re-write that so that I’m happier with the finished look.  Thus far I’ve added a little scoop neck (so that you can drink without getting the little jumper wet), but that’s about it.  I’ll blog about that properly once I’ve finished mucking about with the pattern!

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Oh, I did also stumble across a new knitting stitch, which of course I had to try.

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My mother got back from her holiday three weeks ago, and although she brought back lots of pretty things for me I’ve only just got round to sorting through them…

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…which did, at least, lead to some creativity in the studio.

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While we’re on the subject of books, I’ve also finally perfected the art of making memo pads (translation: I finally found the right sort of adhesive to hold the pages together).  It might seem like a small thing to most people, but it pleases me greatly as it means I can now use up offcuts in a fairly easy way.

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Speaking of offcuts, and using things up, I’ve continued sorting through the depths of my studio and found some lovely (but seriously mangled!) children’s books which I will turn into bunting very soon.

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Yeah, they don’t look like much in that photo, but the colour plates are beautiful!  Lastly, but by no means least, I helped make a sari blouse for a friend.

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Which is another thing that deserves a blog entry all of its own, so I will come back to it later this week!

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For someone who lives in London, I very rarely go into town these days.  However, Friday was an exception as I was meeting some friends, and I did get a couple of very quick sketches into my book while I was out.  Nothing thrilling, just (another!) brick wall while I was waiting for a train, and then part of a hotel while I was waiting outside King’s Cross station.

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I really wanted to do some sketches of people on the train too, but they were all most unobliging and kept noticing (and looking deeply suspicious) as soon as I looked at them!

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wip 23-10-2013_01

So, apart from a crash course in taxidermy, what have I been up to this past week?  Everything and nothing!  I’ve had the attention span of a concussed goldfish over the past few days, and have been flitting from project to project without being able to settle on anything for more than a few hours.  I’ve made a start on a crocheted tardis (which will form part of my nephew’s xmas present), which is going well so far but the yarn is quite splitty and thus it’s becoming a bit of a chore already.  I think I’ll sit down over the weekend and try and get the main body of it done in one big crocheting session so that it’s out of the way and I can move on to something else.

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Whilst procrastinating about the tardis I decided to have a bash at making some mini mittens (with the vague idea of using them as yuletide decorations)… my first attempt was fairly successful (although I wasn’t 100% happy with the finished shape), but my goodness it took forever as I was working in the round.

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I also thought that it was a bit too big, so I decided to have a go at making a mitten which I could knit flat and then just sew up at the end.

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The fact that there’s a pair of these should tell you that it was a far more successful experiment!  Much easier and quicker to knit, and the size is definitely better.

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The mittens weren’t enough to keep me distracted though, and I also tried my hand at knitting a miniature stocking.  This was actually two firsts for me: my first sock, and also my first fair isle!

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I really like it, but it was fairly time-consuming and also far too big.

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I’m going to find some other sock patterns and see if I can’t work out something quicker and smaller that I can knit instead.  In the meantime I have yet another side project on the go today…making a sari blouse for a friend.  Yeah, tailoring isn’t really my thing but I’m giving it a go!

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Just a little update for anyone who’s been following the seemingly endless stream of little knitted hats which pop up regularly on this blog, this year I managed to knit a grand total of 50 hats for the Innocent Big Knit.  That’s ten fewer than last year, but every hat counts!  These are also more colourful than the ones from 2012, which pleases me greatly.

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I dropped them off at Innocent HQ a few weeks ago (ok, I had to be driven there by my fella as I was really rather ill with the ‘flu), and the very nice receptionist dished out some freebies from their fridge as a little thank you.  There were also two bottles of kiwi & lime smoothie, but Matt stole them away before I could take the photo!

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I’m assuming there will be another Big Knit in 2014, so I’ll have a little rest from hats until the start of the new year.  In the meantime, if you see a bottle with a hat on it in your local supermarket then please buy one – 25p from the sale of every bottle with a hat on it will go to Age UK (click here for more details).

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PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHS OF TAXIDERMY (THE PROCESS OF PREPARING AND STUFFING AN ANIMAL FOR PRESERVATION).  IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO VIEW THE PHOTOGRAPHS THEN YOU SHOULD NAVIGATE AWAY FROM THIS PAGE IMMEDIATELY.

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The Other Art Fair is on again this weekend, and as something a bit different they’ve been offering some classes in taxidermy, run by The London Taxidermy Academy.  I’ve fancied trying my hand at taxidermy for a while, so this was the perfect opportunity to have a go.

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The class was for 15 people, but only half a dozen turned up (who on earth pays £70 for a course and then doesn’t show up?!) – which was no bad thing, as it meant we got a bit more individual attention from the teacher.  Bonus!  This was still quite a large class though, at the London Taxidermy Academy (LTA) each class consists of no more than five students.

The first thing we learned is that the LTA don’t kill animals for the purpose of taxidermy.  Animals are obtained from ethical sources (such as gamekeepers who are carrying out a necessary cull, or rodents which are bred and killed for food), and they do not use exotic animals (only native species including, but not limited to, rodents, foxes, deer, and pigeons).  Our teacher also believes that animals should be preserved in as close to their natural state as possible (rather than dressed up, as with anthropomorphic taxidermy), so no costumes or props were provided for this class.

Our specimens for the day were white mice (bred and sold as snake fodder).  They were frozen for two months (which is the minimum recommended time to ensure that all bacteria are killed), and then taken out of the freezer just a couple of hours before the class began.  We learned that this helps to make things easier: you have a firmer base to work with, and it’s just a bit less messy!

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I won’t go into great detail for every stage of the process (if you’re really keen to learn then you should go on a course!), but I’ll give a brief outline.  First I made an incision from between the arms to just above the genital area, taking care to only cut through the skin whilst leaving the flesh underneath intact.  This is the key to keeping your specimen as clean as possible, because if you puncture the main body of the mouse you risk piercing the internal organs, or allowing them to slip out of the body cavity.

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I had a bit of difficulty prising the front legs apart, so had to wait until he’d thawed a bit more before I could extend the incision upwards a little.

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Now, here’s where it all starts to look a bit gruesome!  Removing the skin is quite a slow process, and we started from the middle of the mouse and then worked our way back.  The photo above shows me at the stage where I’ve almost got the hind legs cleared (look, you can even see the scrotum and penis – how amazing is that?!), at which point the tail has to be severed, and the leg bones too (although you leave the feet and part of the ankle intact).

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You then work your way up the mouse towards the head, taking due care around the ears and eyelids, and the photo above shows the skin almost fully removed bar the nose.

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Ta da!  One fully flayed mouse.  It’s quite amazing to see the carcass close up, because even the eyeballs are still intact, and you can see the organs and spine very clearly.

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We then turned the skin back the correct way and washed it, rinsed it then blow dried it.  It was a bit like having a particularly grim finger puppet…

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Look, lovely and fluffy after being blow dried!  We then flipped the skin inside out again so that we could apply a preservative to the inside of it.  Then we were ready to start the stuffing process.  Firstly we made a body out of wire, wood wool, and wool twine.  This was inserted into the mouse (adding a bit of cotton wool as fine padding around the face), then the leg wires were inserted.  Oh, yes, and of course the mouth was sewn up before the face was padded!

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I had a quick look to check the general shape before I started sewing him up.  Behold Gerald, the amazing flying mouse.

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Gerald was sewn up a bit at a time, adding additional cotton wool as needed.

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Then pins were inserted to prop the ears up while they dry (it’ll take a couple of weeks for the specimen to dry out completely, although it’ll be fairly rigid after just a few days).  The leg wires stay as they are until the mouse is posed and has dried, after which point they can be cut.

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Since getting Gerald home, I have adjusted his pose a bit and pinned his tail into position.  I decided on an upright pose so that I could show him off to best advantage as I’m really proud of my first attempt at taxidermy!

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He’ll stay like that until he’s dried out completely and then I’ll trim the foreleg wires completely, and trim the hind leg wires by about two thirds (I’ve decided to leave a little bit to help with balance, and also to tuck underneath the item he’ll eventually be posed against).  The pins that are positioning his ears and tail will also be removed at that time (about two weeks from now I think).  I’ll take another photo once that’s been done.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into taxidermy, and definitely want to do some more!  I found the whole process oddly soothing, and although nervous about making mistakes I did like the challenge of learning something new.  I intend to get some supplies (mainly the preservative, as I seem to have everything else already) and then practice on more mice to help build up my confidence and improve my technique a bit before I try my hand at a bird.  The classes at The LTA assume no prior knowledge, but given how expensive they are I would prefer not to make a hash of it!  For further information please visit The LTA website.

I hope you’ve found this post interesting, and would love to hear your comments.

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So, no puppy sketches today – makes a change from recent weeks!  Instead I have two very quick doodles from my trip to The Other Art Fair on Friday.

ss 20-10-2013

A brick wall and a dead mouse.  Not hugely engaging subjects, but I love the way they look (particularly the mouse) – which just proves my theory that my work is best when it’s fast and loose, and that when I spend too long on a sketch I tend to squash the life out of it by concentrating too much on getting details right.

If you’re wondering about the dead mouse…well, check back here on Monday as I’ll be posting a full (and extremely graphic) explanation.  Be warned!

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Earlier this year I lost a friend to breast cancer.  She was just 38, and has left behind a husband and their two young children.  Claire died because we do not yet have the ability to fight such an aggressive form of breast cancer – and more women, and men (remember, men can get breast cancer too), will continue to die until medical science comes up with a cure.

No amount of forwarding Facebook statuses will change that.  Buying pink charity merchandise helps a bit, but the amount of money that actually goes to cancer research from such sales isn’t actually very much.  By far the best way of helping to fight cancer is to put your hand in your pocket and make a direct donation.

Claire was an incredible woman.  Brave to the end, and so uncomplaining that although we all knew her condition was terminal it was a shock when she did die because she just kept soldiering on.  She was graceful to the very end, and she will be sorely missed.

Today around thirty of Claire’s friends, coming from all over the UK, are taking part in the Race for Life in memory of Claire.  Please donate whatever you can – even £1 would help (and if you’re a UK taxpayer then please do click the GiftAid option).  Most of my blog followers won’t know Claire, but I bet most of you know someone like her.  It’s sad to say, but I don’t know anyone whose life hasn’t been affected by cancer, either directly or indirectly.

Please donate if you can, and if you can encourage others to donate too then that would also be splendid.  Thank you.

http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/lllers/

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