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Seven Hills

Boston-area exploration, travel notes, crafty things, and other Somervillainy.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Favorite Summer Shoe

Summer shoes are problematic for me - do you find that, too? Flip flops and sandals are great for wandering around, but on long walks they start to chafe, and sometimes it's just too hot to consider socks and sneakers. What do you do about those really epic-walk days, when you still want something cool and breezy?

My solution is Fernand Footwear. They're not the most stylish shoe out there, but I live just over the border from crunchy Cambridge, after all. I first saw my friend Devon wearing them, many years ago, and she told me she got them in Northern Michigan - they're handmade there, in the town of Benzonia. This was before the advent of global Internet shopping, so I forgot about them for another many years until it occurred to me that this local artisan shoemaker might have put together a web site.

While some of the styles are incredibly dorky, I think the simpler ones like "the Chinese" Mary-Jane, "the West Indian" T-strap, and "the Floridian" slide are all pretty cute, in their earthy boho way, and I like that woven detail around the back of the ankle on the buckle styles. The leather is really soft, especially the insole, and after awhile the shoe molds to your foot in a unique-to-you fit. If you're not quite sure which size you take you can send in a tracing of your foot at no extra charge and they'll match you up to the closest fit. At $100+ per pair they're not the cheapest, but mine have lasted through three years of heavy wear, and I just noticed you can send your shoes back for resoling and conditioning for a pretty reasonable fee. These shoes are meant to last until the leather gives out.

So, for all these reasons, I go with my Fernands to get me through the dog days of summer. But probably most of all, the way it often is with favorite clothes, because each time I put them on I get to think of my friend.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Before the inspiration could fade, I decided to take a stab at constructing those twig teepees to support our new tomato plants, as an alternative to the circular cages you get at the hardware store. The first step was sorting through the raw material: this heap of yard waste moldering in the small lot behind our house.

I used pruning shears to trim off protruding branches, and brought a bundle of different lengths and thicknesses back up to the porch.

Once I started working with them, it was clear that the thinner branches were best for my purposes -- easier to trim, more flexible, and sufficiently sturdy to support the plant (I hope). Forming the tent shape was trickier than I expected, as even the slight curve of the branches affected the way they all came together at the top.

Crazy ballooning "teepee":

I used some copper wire I had lying around to fasten the twigs at the top, for a decorative touch:

Twine wrapped around the branches to help support the growing plant:

We'll see how they work. I can't decide if the finished effect is more "rustic cottage garden" or "Blair Witch II: Haunted Porch." It would probably look better with three teepees instead of two, the same way a bouquet of flowers looks best with an odd number of blooms. Perhaps a good excuse to add one more tomato variety to the mix.

In other gardening news, the morning glory tendrils have already found their way around the nearest guiding length of twine. How do they know how to do that? The sweet peas were not quite as enterprising, and needed another nudge in the right direction this morning.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Plant Attack

It seems like I blinked and suddenly summer was well underway: balmy nights and the smell of neighbors' barbecues in the air, and me with winter coats and hats still piled in our front hall, and the bulky feather duvet taking up valuable real estate on a chair in the bedroom.

That stuff all still needs to be dealt with, but today I hauled myself over to the garden center and ended up buying twice as many plants as I'd intended to. That must happen to everyone, right? It's so tempting ... like all those different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, with their descriptions as over-the-top and escapist as any clothing catalog copy. "Sun-kissed, deep-golden fruit bursts with tropical flavor" -- about a tomato! And yes, I came home with two heirloom varieties, that sun-kissed tropical one, and also "Brandywine Red," which I probably chose because it reminded me of "The Hobbit." Also some basil, part of my original plan, tarragon (nice with fingerling potatoes from the farmers market), and a trio of interesting-looking lettuces.

Unfortunately our rascally porch squirrel will probably dig everything up and make short work of it all by sunrise tomorrow. I found a couple of nuts buried in the old lettuce planter, a storeroom he evidently forgot to raid once winter set in. I'm hoping, perhaps naively, that because I got larger plants this time (last year I tried seedlings) he won't be able to do as much damage.

I'm thinking of attempting to craft some twig teepees for the tomatoes, in an effort to create "vertical interest" for our "garden." I've got some sweet pea and morning glory vines (more impulse buys) started by the porch railing as well.

And for a last stab at atmosphere, a pot of lavender and some miniature daisies (not their real name, but their identification tag is all the way out on the porch) for some South of France je ne sais quois. The lavender just happens to perfectly match our awesome and cheap new chairs from Target, though their color looked more navy then purple under the fluorescents in the store. But ca ne fait rien: turns out it was all part of a grander scheme.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Lobster Roll Diaries: Barking Crab

Yesterday some friends treated me to a great lunch at the Barking Crab, a seafood place on Fort Point Channel in Boston. They had been curious to try a lobster roll, so that was the purpose of our expedition.

The Barking Crab can be a little tricky to find, tucked down behind a bridge on a side of town that most people, I would guess, don't often have reason to visit. Once you get there though, the location is hard to beat, right on the water and looking up at the buildings of the financial district. In a city so famous for its harbor (remember the Boston Tea Party?), it's surprisingly easy to let months go by without glimpsing any waterway but the Charles River (which, granted, is very nice in itself), so that makes this place extra special.

It also has a fun atmosphere, with lobster traps (or crab traps? I don't know) filled with twinkly lights, and a tented, open-air side (rather carnival-like) for summer, and a cozier enclosed dining room with a wood stove for winter. We sat at picnic tables under the tent this time.

As for the roll itself, well I'll tell you, it wasn't downright bad, but we weren't wowed. The lobster meat just didn't have much flavor, but I'm not sure if that's due to the time of year, the way it's cooked, or the luck of the draw. Whatever the reason, the end result was a dominant flavor of mayonnaise and parsley. I also prefer my lobster salad in larger chunks, but that might be a matter of taste.

The use of a baguette instead of a hot dog bun worked surprisingly well, in particular because the crust wasn't too hard. The fries and coleslaw that came with the sandwich were great (it's nice to have side orders to munch on, to make the lobster roll last longer), and we also ordered some fried Ipswich clams, which were perfect.

I like the Barking Crab overall. The food is fresh and simply prepared, and it would be a good place to take out-of-town visitors. Yet, although I had no trouble finishing everything on my plate, I probably wouldn't order their lobster roll again, except in the case of a true lobster roll emergency. Never say never.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Clothespin Doll Tutorial

A lot of people find this site by searching for "clothespin dolls," and I started to feel sort of bad that I didn't have more practical information for them once they got here. (As an aside, if you have a blog, do you ever find yourself influenced by the search terms that bring people to your site? I can't, or won't, do much for those searching for "transparent leotards," but I sometimes feel I should at least have included a basic recipe for all those desperately looking for the perfect "carrucho" dish.)

It's pretty easy to figure out how to make a clothespin doll on your own, and one of the neat things about them is how many different ways you can go with the same foundation materials. But there are a few tricks I've learned along the way to get the best results, so here it is: my process for making clothespin dolls, along with more musings on the art of the clothespin doll than seems reasonable for something so small and uncomplicated. Be careful what you search for!

- Round wooden slotted clothespins
- Craft glue (I am loyal to Elmer's)
- Scissors
- Yarn or embroidery floss
- Paint and fine brushes, or fine-tipped markers
- Lightweight fabric
- Felt

Clothespins: There are lots of types of clothespins out there, but unless you're making an alligator, you want the round slotted wooden kind. I prefer the shorter style, though the tall ones can yield appealing results as well.

The quality of new clothespins unfortunately just isn't that good anymore. Even those that are still made from American hardwood are now assembled in China, and you can really see the difference in the product. Compare the clothespin on the right (an old-school model) with the other two in the photo. The new clothespins are crudely carved, the wood lacks the same pleasing grain, and both styles have a weird forked notch at the end of the slot. Be forewarned. I look for vintage clothespins on eBay. If I'd known this supply, so inexpensive and readily available until quite recently, was was going to disappear, I would have stocked up.

You'll also find clothespins marketed as "doll pins" at craft supply stores. These suffer from the same poor wood quality and coarse finishing, and usually have squared-off legs, rather than the tapered "foot" of the traditional shape. This makes it easier to stand them on their own, but I think they look stumpy, kind of like the difference in effect between a nice heel vs. an orthopedic clodhopper. However, you can also buy simple wooden stands along with these craft pins, which are useful for displaying your finished doll.

Hair: I like to glue on the hair before I draw the doll's face. I find it easier to paint in the face after I can see how the hair will frame it. Yarn or embroidery floss are good materials, or you can paint it on if you want a short, sleek look. Four or five strands of yarn are enough to cover the top of the head.

Fill in the back of the head with another four or five shorter strands of yarn (more for finer fibers).

This character is getting bangs for some added personality.

Face: Once the hair has dried, it's time to paint the face (just like getting ready for work in the morning). I think paint yields a more durable and appealing finished product, but marker can be easier to control and is also fine, especially if you're doing this project with kids.

Whether you're using a brush or a pen, you want a fine-tipped point. The tiniest speck of pigment can make a world of difference to the expressions on these minimalist faces - with the slip of a pen, your saintly princess doll can become an evil-browed villainess.

Along the same lines, every girl feels better with a fresh haircut and a touch of mascara, even girls made out of laundry accessories. Whether you're using paint or marker, you want to let the eyes dry before you add anything like lashes or eyeglasses, or the black pigment will bleed.

Clothes: I find when you're working with small scraps of fabric the edges have a tendency to fray, so even though sewing seems theoretically nicer, I glue these garments together. It helps prevent the fraying and also gives the garments a bit of structure, sort of like a whalebone corset.

I prefer not to glue the clothes directly to the doll, because of course the fun of clothes is to have lots of cute outfits. My only exception is when I'm making a doll for a young child, since you know the outfit will disappear in an instant if it's not glued firmly in place (though they'll still probably rip the arms and hair off within five minutes).

If you're choosing a printed fabric, go for something in a small enough scale to translate to the size of the doll. Some fabric stores sell bundles of remnants, which can be a good source of material for multiple small items.

Dress how-to: For a basic A-line dress, you'll need a few scant inches of lightweight fabric, and about two square inches of felt for arms (anyway, that's my solution for the problem of arms). Cut out one strip about an inch wide, and long enough to wrap around the doll's body with a half inch to spare. Cut a wider, longer strip to make the skirt. To help prevent fraying, you can use the selvage of the cloth as the top and bottom edges of the dress, or fold the edge over and iron it. Or just cut out your squares and let the fringe fall where it may - this is a folk art, after all.

Top: Wrap the narrower strip tightly around the doll and glue down the edge, being careful not to get glue on the doll itself or let the glue bleed through the fabric. Let dry. This will be the top of the dress.

Skirt: Dab a little glue along the front of the waist, and wrap the larger piece of cloth around the waist, angling the ends to form a cone shape. Dab a little glue at the sides of the waist and where the flaps of cloth overlap. You can glue the whole piece of fabric down for a wrap-around look (very Diane von Furstenberg), or just lay a line of glue straight down the back of the skirt and trim off the excess fabric after the glue dries. Once everything is dry, trim the skirt to the length you want. An edging of decorative trim can help prevent the hem from fraying.

Arms: When I was a kid, I never bothered with clothespin doll arms. The pipe cleaner arms on clothespin dolls at craft fairs (usually Christmas tree ornaments) always bugged me - they were furry and sharp and not fooling anyone - and I didn't need the dolls to be able to hold anything, anyway. We'd just sort of use our own fingers in place of the missing arms if a given character really needed actual, functional arms. Now as an adult I'm a bit more literal, yet acknowledge that this is still just a small doll made out of a wooden peg, so stiff little "L" shapes of felt are my compromise, doing the job of signifying "arm" without slowing me down too much. Feel free to follow my innovation, or develop one of your own.

Details: Sequins and seed beads make nice buttons, narrow ribbons are good for sashes, and lace and rick rack add a flourish at the neck or hem. I don't worry too much about whether these additions are in perfect scale to the size of the doll, because in general they won't be. I am also fond of layering on lace hem tape for a lingerie look.

Shoes: I find these problematic, and as I used to with arms (and still do with noses), tend to ignore them. Occasionally I will paint on a little goes-with-anything pair of black ballerina flats, but to be honest they look more like hooves. A pair of painted brown button boots can work if your doll is Victorian, or knee-high black ones if she is a dominatrix or a New Yorker, but how comfortable will those be when she wants to hit the beach in July? I have crafted removable black boots out of electrical tape, but they were crudely shaped at best and required powerful imagination to be seen as anything other than stubby black bandages. Because of all this, I say add shoes at your own risk.

Done. And here's the finished result, shoeless, but still dressed up a bit with rick rack trim on her skirt (sewn rather than glued, since the weight of the rick rack is rather heavy) and a purse made from a scrap of Tyrolean jacquard.

Transformed from a dreary clothesline peg into a fabulous girl-about-town, all in just a few simple steps.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

What Could be Sadder ...

... than an ice cream truck idling outside the house, at dusk, playing "Send in the Clowns"? Over and over, for, like, 20 minutes.

By the time it finally pulled away I was about to break down in tears.