Friday, February 3, 2017

John Dumas: In Memorium

Earlier this week, I was saddened to hear about the death of John Dumas, manager of Ted's Boot Shop in Northampton, MA.

Throughout my busking career, certain people have stood out as incredibly kind, supportive, and welcoming.  John was one of them.  The grandson of the original owners of Ted's, he has been the manager there for decades.  I wouldn't have pegged the gruff marine veteran as someone who would get excited about elves and puppets, but he certainly proved me wrong.  John and I are as different as two people can be, but shared a mutual affection.

Photo from The Republican/Don Treeger

The busking pitches are few in Northampton, especially with the [aggressive] addition of Thornes' planters, so the sidewalk across from Ted's became my go-to pitch whenever I was in the area from about 2013 through 2015.  Sound wafting through doors and spectators blocking store entrances are inevitable issues that cause many businesses to complain about buskers, but John and his staff showed no signs of distress.

In fact, John routinely invited me inside to use the staff bathroom.  On cold December days, he demanded I come inside to warm up.  He coaxed his new employees into stepping outside to check out my act, and during his frequent cigarette breaks encouraged passersby to stop and watch.  If a crowd had gathered, he came outside just to make sure they had noticed my marionette's and my matching outfits.

In December of 2016, I returned to Northampton to busk after 18 months away.  John warmly greeted me and welcomed me back.  I occupied my mind that day thinking about my lovely relationship with Ted's, including the fact that I can see my reflection in their window, reminding me to smile.  I took this picture of exactly that.

Checking out my elven reflection
That day, I decided to ask John to take a picture with me, because I wanted to write him a shout-out on social media to commend him for his warmth and generosity over the years.  I chickened out, figuring I'd be back someday and would have other opportunities.  But no.

John was only 59, and seemed perfectly healthy (except for smoking) when I last saw him.  I don't know why he died, but I do know he was too young.  My heart truly goes out to his family, some of whom I knew from the shop, and friends.  I didn't know John well, but his extraordinary support went a long way.  He was truly a patron of the arts, and Northampton won't be the same without him.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Slacker's Guide to Pumpkin Portraits

Happy Almost Halloween!  In a complete deviation of the purpose of this blog, I wanted to document the steps I took to create my Bernie Sanders jack-o-lantern, minimal as the likeness might be.  I call this the "slacker's guide" because this is pretty much the bare minimum you can do if you're ambitious with your pumpkin plans but not a gifted artist.  Here's the final product, along with our beloved presidential hopeful it's supposed to resemble:

Twins, right?  I originally had the idea to do Donald Trump, but that was way too scary.  If I had to spend several hours looking at a mug, I much prefer Bernie's.  I did some research into how to carve detailed faces on pumpkins, and it required skills at Photoshop or the equivalent, so I fiddled around with doing it without these.

STEP 1: Choose a photo.  One where the subject is front on, not looking to the side at all (unless just his/her eyeballs are, like Bernie here).

STEP 2: Prep it.  Your goal is to make a stencil where the dark areas are black, the light areas are white, and everything else is gray, with high contrast.  Upping the contrast to make the darks black enough adds shadows to other features, like the eyes, at which point you use Photoshop to fix that.  But I don't have the software or skills, so I decided to render it semi-stenciled and do the rest manually.  I did use iPhoto and Sumo Paint online for basic edits.

I got a photo off the internet...

Cropped it...

Made it black and white...

and upped the contrast to the maximum...

But this wasn't contrast-y enough.  So I saved this image to my desktop, imported it to iPhoto again to get a fresh start, then increased the contrast a second time.

I still wasn't satisfied with the contrast, so I re-imported it again.  Upped the contrast more, and this time I upped the exposure too to make the whites whiter.  

STEP 3: Remove excess black background.  This is only if you care about saving printer ink.  If you have MS Paint, you're good to go.  I do not, sadly, so I used an online photo editor called Sumo that did the trick.  Go to Sumo Paint, and click "Try Online."  Go to File, Open from My Computer, and get your image up.

Oops!  Bernie grew a mole on his noggin.
Go to the Eraser tool, then choose your ideal shape.  I went with Diamond.  On the right, make sure to change the color to white (unless you really need to use up cyan printer ink or something).  I also recommend increasing the diameter of your erasing tool.

Erase away the background so you can print just your subject's face!  Make sure to leave a border so you can tell where noggin ends and abyss begins.

When you're done click File, Save to Cloud, and after a bazillion seconds it'll show it huge on the next page.  I simply right clicked on the image and chose "Save Image."

Step 3: Print it!  I opened the picture with a Google Doc, shrunk it a little bit to fit my pumpkin, and printed from there.

Step 4: Blacken the blacks.  The idea is that you have extreme areas of black (uncarved pumpkin) and white (carved away pumpkin), and anything in the middle you will partially carve away but leave some pumpkin flesh intact.  It is important that you cannot have "islands" of black, since the face needs to support itself, so find a way to have all black parts connected.  I used a Sharpie to enhance my black areas.

Looking more and more like FDR!
Optional: cover the print-out with a blank sheet of paper against a window and trace the black.  If it's recognizable, you're good to go.

Then you're ready to carve!  Cut out your face and tape it to your hollowed out pumpkin.

Use a pin to make a dotted outline of expanses of white, through the paper, into the pumpkin.

Peel the stencil back, and cut out those areas.  I used an X-acto knife for the detail work.

Keep doing this down the face.  I cut each area smaller than it needed to be, since more can always be carved.

After I got most of the white cut, I just eyeballed the rest, comparing it to the print-out I had.  I found it helped to remove just the outer skin on areas I wanted to be non-black, then you can alter the depth of the cuts based on how light that part should be.

I decided it was "finished," but it didn't look right.  So I reduced some of the black spots and added more hair.  It was supposed to have a curved line on the left side of his forehead to separate hair from head, but it fell off.  Oops!

I recommend going into a dark bathroom and checking how it looks often.  Here's the finished product by day...

And by night...

Happy carving!

Monday, February 2, 2015

How to Fur-Line Boots

I know I know, I have been writing far too many posts that deviate from this blog's purpose, and it's time for me to start a proper crafting blog.  But until then, here's to versatility!

I just finished this weekend's snowed-in crafting/sewing project, and, feeling quite pleased with myself, I wanted to share my process.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you....home-fur-lined boots!

Wow!  Ooooh!  Aaaahhh!

1. Pair of boots with extra room in the leg
2. Fake fur.  I bought one foot of 60-inch fur. 12" was good to cover the height, but I had extra lengthwise, inevitably
3. Velcro
4. Glue, maybe
5. Pencil, ruler, sewing machine

A little super-fascinating background...
I bought these Merrell boots several years ago, and they served me well.  However, they were on the way out the door to retirement because one of the zippers was totally broken and the heels were worn down.  I decided to treat myself to new boots this year, and I wanted fur-lined ones because they're super cozy.

The "fur" I bought, made from real polyester sheep.
But, to my dismay, perfect boots were nowhere to be found.  After exhausting local shoe stores and the internet, it looked hopeless that I would find boots in my size that served my needs before winter was over.  So I pulled these boots out of retirement and brought them to Paul's Shoe Repair in Amherst for a new zipper.  "Paul" told me he could redo the heels as well, and it was in the shop that very day that I had the idea to take on the project of making a fur lining myself.  

Brand new zipper
New heel
One complaint I had with these boots is that the calf openings are very wide.  I have big feet (these are 11s, I think!) but that doesn't mean I have enormous calves, Merrell!  A bonus of this project was that the fur filled that extra space, giving them a slimmer fit.  For this reason, if the boots you're lining already fit your leg well, they might be too tight if you add fur.
Well-worn boot
Although furry boots are perfect for winter, they can be too much for fall and spring.  For this reason, I wanted my fur lining to be removable, and I opted to have it Velcro into place.  This means when the fur's not in I'll have permanent Velcro inside my boots, but oh well. 

I didn't have too much confidence that this project would be successful, since I was completely winging it, but I am pleased with the results!

Step 1: Attach Boot Velcro 
 I used self-adhesive velcro for the inside of the boot because I obviously couldn't sew it in.  My experience with self-adhesive velcro has been bad, since it falls off, but I was feeling lazy.  I did already lose one of the bottom pieces because I wore the boots mid-project and the action of putting my foot in the boot dislodged it, so I re-attached that one with Aleene's Fabric Glue.  If the others fall off, I'll just glue them in as well.  I did velcro along the very top of the boot, up to the zippers, and at the bottom of the leg part above where the material changes.

Use the soft side, please, or you will regret it when the fur's not in!  Ow!

On the bottom...

...and on top
Step 2: Geometry
I had planned to just cut a rectangle of fur and trim it to match the layout of the boot, but as I began measuring the inside I realized the boot is made of three triangles, as you can see above, so therefore the lining should be too.  I dusted off my old 10th grade geometry skillz and measured these triangles.
Outstanding precision and handwriting on my part
Step 3: Cut out pieces
I used geometry tools of yore (ruler, square....pencil) to measure out my three triangles, leaving seam allowances of 1/2" on the sides and 3/4" on top.  I decided not to hem the bottom, because it would be bulky inside the boot and unnecessary. 

Look at that spread!

Step 4: Sew!
Connect the side pieces to the center piece...

I used a regular stitch...

Followed by a zig-zag stitch...


Then trimmed those seams to 1/4" and flattened them using more zig-zag.

Then hemmed the sides...


And top...    

Step 5: Add Fur-side Velcro
I sewed one long piece of rough-side Velcro across the top, the bottom of it lining up with the bottom of the hem.  I didn't go all the way up because I wanted some fur to stick up and be visible above the boot.

I used three separate pieces for the bottom because of the angles.  #geometry

 Regular stitch plus zig-zag, for strength...

Ta-da!  All done!  I forgot to take a picture of the other side, and now they're all snug in the boots.

Step 6: Fluff

Because fur gets stuck under the stitches, it looks a little nicer if you just pull some of it out with your fingers.

Step 7: Insert into boots

You know what to do; Velcro to Velcro (dust to dust).

I am generally pleased with how they came out.  Even with the large initial calf openings, the addition of fur has made the boots snug, so I can't wear them with multiple layers of leggings.

You might notice that since the fur is attached at the top and bottom but not sides it just sort of hangs there, and I'm going to try leaving it like that.  Once they're zipped up the fur's not going anywhere.  In fact, the Velcro isn't necessary at all, but it's nice to keep boots together as a unit when I take them off at the movies, for example.

The linings also don't look fabulous, but they're invisible inside!  I'm excited to start wearing these boots again!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

How to "Make" Elf Shoes

Greetings, Earthlings!  (What?  Elves are earthlings, too.)

As you know, this time of year I do my same ol' busking routine, except in a home-made elf costume.  Since I first made it in 2010 it has changed slightly every year, and this was the year it was time to replace my shoes.  They weren't comfortable enough to endure many hours of foot-puppetry, and the curls on the toes kept falling over.  This project took two afternoons, and was quite easy, if you don't mind glue fumes!

Here's what my final product looked like, since I guess you're supposed to do that on DIY blogs:

Wow!  Perfect, flawless elf shoes!
Note: I recommend NOT driving a car in elf shoes, because (1) the curls will get all smooshed, and (2) if the curls don't get smooshed, they'll hook onto something then you won't be able to move between the gas and the brake and you will NOT have a holly jolly Christmas if that happens.  A sleigh is okay, though.

-1 pair sneakers (I used Dansko Vedas that took a beating waitressing last summer but were perfectly refurbishable)
-Fabric of your choice, probably no more than one yard, but I didn't measure.  I went with green velvet leftover from my elf costume
-1 wire coat hanger
-A little bit of batting
-Laces (I used sparkly silver cord from Jo-Ann, I think two yards)
-Other "accents" (Fur for around the ankle, silver ribbon for around the shoe, etc.)
-Jingle bells for the toes, of course!

-Heavy duty super glue.  Lots of it.  I went through a whole tube (For the original pair I used Fabri-Tac but wasn't totally satisfied with its strength.  This time I used Aleene's Super Fabric Adhesive which was better.  It smells really strong but I didn't feel woozy or anything, and it's great for peeling off fingers)
-Wire cutters/pliers
-Rubber bands
-Scotch tape
-Awl, or other pointy thing
-Fabric scissors
-Sewing machine or needle and thread

Clear your afternoon, spread out some newspaper, make a cup of peppermint hot chocolate (you're an elf, right?), put on some Christmas music (just kidding, trashy pop music will do just fine), and get to work!  Oh, and I recommend balling up newspaper and shoving it inside each shoe for support.

STEP 1: Curls
The curls are the hardest part of elf shoes.  I just recycled the curls from my old shoes, so unfortunately my memory of how to make them is a little fuzzy, but it's pretty straightforward.

1.1 Draw your desired curl on the wrong side of a double layer of fabric.  I use chalk.  (This photo was me doing this step, then bailing and deciding to use the old ones, so make yours prettier!)

I really hope you can do better than this.
1.2 Cut it out, leaving room for a wee seam, and cut the "stem" longer than the curl will be to attach it.  Hand- or machine-sew it closed, right sides together.

1.3 Turn it inside out (this part will be hard, but I have full confidence that you'll figure out, and you'll have to since I forget how I did it--use a safety pin maybe?).  Stuff it with batting, sew jingle bell to the end (but do this at the end if you don't want jingling throughout the project!)

Note: when the bells fall off, and they will, I quickly put new ones on using plain, stud earrings.  You can get them on tightly and apparently the back will stay on the earring more strongly than stitches hold.  Also, it's a great surprise when you're looking everywhere for that earring then find it years later on your elf shoe!

STEP 2: Curl supports
On my old shoes, the curls kept falling over.  I had one L-shaped support, so the curls couldn't flop forwards, but they could flop left, right, and backwards, yanking the whole support out of place so I had wires sticking straight up.  This time, I did it right.

2.1 Using your wire cutters and pliers, make the two supports shown below out of the coat hanger.  Both are a single piece of wire folded in half in kind of a loop, approximately an inch and a half tall.  On one, bend the "feet" so they go forward at a right angle, so the whole unit is an L-shape.  The feet are about an inch long.  On the other, bend the feet 90 degrees to the sides, so it's two L's back to back.  Because of these braces, the curls won't be able to flop around at all.  Sounds like each piece is five inches long when you cut it.

2.2 Time for the glue.  I attached the front ones first, near the toe, and put a rectangle of card stock (cut out from the glue packaging) over the feet for extra support.  I put glue under each foot and under the card.  The big rubber band was great for holding it together while everything dried.  For the back one, I couldn't find means of extra support, so I just glued the feet themselves, which seem to be holding together.  The back braces kept falling towards the front ones, though, which I allowed.  They seem to be stronger when they touch, so no problem.

More like quail shoes.

2.3 Shove the braces through the batting of your curl, and smother the bottom of the curl in glue!

This is the only photo where it looks like I did a good job.

STEP 3: Cover shoes
My shoes had clear "sides" where the lace holes were, so I decided to just follow the design of the shoe while covering it.  If your shoes are different, do this differently!

3.1 The first part you'll be covering, if your shoes are like mine, is the toe and tongue, so it's useful getting the lace flaps out of the way.  I found that twist ties and a rubber band worked perfectly.

Ah yes, interior sweat marks from Cape Cod summer waitressing.
As you can tell, my footprints are awesome.

3.2 Cut out enough fabric to cover the tongue and toes.  Figure out where it will be placed and mark where the curl lies (I just pinch it with my fingers because precision is not my strong suit).  Fold that spot and cut a little slit so when you open it it will be a good size for the curl.  Don't make it too big or it will look bad!  Put the curl through the hole. 

Where's my shoe?  There it is!
3.3 Lift up the fabric (I think I bunched it around the curl and clothespinned it so I could use both hands to squeeze the bejesus out of the glue tube) and put a butt-load of glue from the curl all the way up the tongue.  Gently put the fabric back down, smoothing it as you go (like putting on a bumper sticker!) until that area is covered.  Then, one side at a time, lift the loose fabric and glue the sides, affixing the fabric.

3.4 Once it's dry, trim the fabric so it's not hanging everywhere.  Or tuck and glue it under the top and sides of the tongue if you're not a slacker like me, 'cause that would probably look nice or something.  Don't cut the sides too close to the lace flap, since overlap there will be okay.  Luckily my shoes have a red line on the rubber on the sides, so that was my guide in trimming the sides. 

3.5 Time to cover the lace flap and the back.  Cut out a piece of fabric big enough for all necessary parts, one for each side.  I started by applying glue just around the lace grommets, and affixing that part of the fabric.  This time, I do tuck it over by about an inch, so glue both sides!

There's something majestic about wet glue.
Getting there...
3.6 Once that's on, put glue on the rest of the exposed fabric, and on some rubber (up to the red line in my case), tucking it into the shoe over the sides.  Trim the excess, being careful to make it look nice where it meets the front fabric piece.  On the back I overlap the two sides by half an inch so the very back has a stripe of double-layer fabric, like a bowling shoe.  I used clothespins and other crap to clamp the tucked parts while they dried.  The highest clothespin there is where I had to fold a little triangle down where there was extra fabric due to the angle.  I'm too tired to find the words to explain that part; you'll figure it out, my dear elf.

STEP 4: Laces
The laces were really hard and annoying.  I chose to only lace them through every other hole, for reasons of both aesthetics and laziness.

4.1 As you'll soon notice, your holes are all covered up.  Use whatever tool you want (I did some with an Exacto knife and some with an awl after I accidentally put the knife in a puddle of glue) to just poke through the layer of fabric covering them, or two, if they're covered from the inside as well.

Got lazy and didn't take a "poking through holes" photo
4.2 Prep the laces.  I bought this fancy silver cord, and the ends were taped from the store.  Once I cut it in half for each shoe, those ends started unraveling.  I wrapped them in tons of tape to keep them secure, but then I couldn't get the damn things through the holes.  This part was very frustrating.  After much trial and error, I realized I was just increasing the diameter by too much with that much tape, so I dramatically sliced the old tape off and put a single piece of tape on each end, just long enough to go around once, and made it really tight.  This made it possible to shove it through a hole enough to then grab the end on the outside with the pliers.  Another reason to only do a few holes!

A perfect bow
STEP 5: Fur
If you want to be a REAL elf, you've gotta have fur around your ankle.   The annoying part is that you're working with a circle, and this material is stiff.  So just kind of bending it to fit isn't going to work.  Therefore, I cut one piece of fur long enough to cover the back half, and two smaller pieces that would go from the back fur to the laces.  I trimmed it to look less geometric, but as you can see in the final photo, it looks real bad.  Whatever.  My good glue ran out by this step, and the less hardcore Fabri-Tac kind didn't cut it with the synthetic backing of the fur, so I swore a lot and strained my thumb muscles to get more out of the good tube.  If you're getting low on strong glue, save it for the fur and use crappy, inferior glue for other parts.

Fur of a real baby polar bear
Ignore the ribbon!  I'm just showing you the fur, goddamnit!

STEP 6: Ribbon
We'll call it ribbon, but isn't it "bric a brac" or something in the crafting world?  Or is that only if it's zig-zag?  The nice thing about putting a silvery thing along the line where fabric meets shoe is that it can cover the crappy job of cutting you did.  This step is pretty self-explanatory: glue glue glue.  Then hours of fun peeling the glue that oozed through the holes off your fingers.

It's beginning to look a LOT like Christmas.
Voilá!  You're done!  I still have to trim the bits of green that ended up below the ribbon line, but my Exacto knife is too gluey so I need to find another means.  Elf shoes are best served with striped tights!

Trying out the multiple angles like in photos of shoes for sale online
Doesn't look like a Dansko sneaker at all!  Humor me here, folks...

Kicking some Christmas ass
Feel free to leave a comment with any questions.  Happy crafting!

Oh, just standing here.