Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Sew What?! WISHING that Halloween was "1,001 NIGHTS"

There has to be some kind of superstition that warns against revealing one's Halloween costume prior to October 31.  Somehow it feels like a bride parading around town in her wedding dress before the big day, especially to one who views Halloween as a marriage of everything wonderful - holidays, dress-up, ghost stories, and free candy!!!  Having broken many a mirror with only negligible consequences, I am willing to tempt the fates and show off this year's version of my tried-and-true Halloween pajamas (as is the case every year, my passion for Halloween is tempered only by my extreme distaste for even minor discomfort, i.e. ungainly costumes, elaborate makeup, full-face masks, gore, the inability to sit/stand/eat/use the facilities properly, etc.).  Any costume I wear must be able to do double duty as lounge/sleepwear.

Inspired by the vintage statuettes that take pride of place on the bookcase, the goal
for my costume was a character ripped straight from the pages of The Arabian Nights.

After seeing the rows of luscious pearls worn by a character on American 
Horror Story: Freak Show and subsequently adding them to the mix, the
resulting costume is probably a culturally-insensitive pastiche of maharaja,
sultan, genie, sheik, Gabor sister, and transvestite.  I'll go with genie.

Even dressed as a genie, the most important question I can ask myself when I'm trying on new clothes is, "Is this flattering or is this fattering?"  Swathed in at least ten yards of reflective, bargain-bin upholstery material, I think the answer is clear.

I blame the bird.
What's that old saying about removing at least one accessory before leaving the house?

But there was no way that I was going to ditch my greatest accessory by far.
For some reason, I was hell-bent on a stylized, avian companion.  I began creating the
scepter parrot before starting on any other part of my costume.  With undue confidence,
I just cut directly into my fabric (remnants from Mary's Christmas dress last year and
another dress yet to be shared) and hoped for the best - it actually worked!  The eyes
are made of buttons and rhinestones; the scepter is a brass ring with a finial made from
beads, buttons, and rhinestones, resting atop a length of gold-painted bamboo onto
which poor polly was rather unceremoniously skewered.

Managing to complete my costume a full three weeks before Halloween, I was left with ample time to follow the click-bait leading to at least two online articles dedicated to the prevention of offensive Halloween costumes.  Having received some concerned feedback on this forum about my choice of vintage-style "gypsy" costume last year, I sincerely hope that this year's costume (a well-intentioned, mythical genie) falls on the correct side of the costume-decency dividing line.  Honestly, I figured the most offensive part about it would be the fact that everyone encouraged me to go bare-chested!!!

Wearing the costume to the 91st-Annual Anaheim Halloween Parade, there was absolutely
no way I could subject the good people of Anaheim (home of Disneyland) to a nearly-nude
Mr. Tiny.  Instead of going topless, I opted for a "fleshtone" (although whose flesh, I know
not) shirt, removing the ribbed cuffs and collar and replacing them with gold braided trim.

I used the same trim to cobble together the remodeled rubber slippers I got
for $1.50 at everyone's favorite Japanese discount store, Daiso.  The curly
toes are finished off by dangling beads.

Fattering though it may be, the costume fulfills all of my comfort requirements as well as the usual budgetary concerns.  The only things I had to buy specifically for the costume were the slippers and the window-pane taffeta; everything else was unearthed from the bottomless pit of my fabric/craft stash (You may call me Prudence of Arabia).  Dare I say that my costume was nearly my "wish" come true?  Rather than a sophisticated, sometimes-sinister sultan, I think I more closely resemble Jeannie's junior-genie, Babu...

Intro from Hanna-Barbara's Jeannie cartoon

You only have a few days left; what are you going to be for Halloween?!!


Mr. Tiny

Friday, October 16, 2015

Kitsch-en Kounter: Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Jack O' Brownie Lantern

You know how you watch every episode of The Great British Bake Off/Baking Show (plus all of its auxiliary programs/interviews) on YouTube before you realize that they offer the latest season on Netflix which somehow translates into a first-class ticket to the world of misplaced confidence, thinking that you can (and should) do anything they can do on the show and do it better?  Well, I do.

Intent on making Halloween last as long as possible, I confidently sauntered up to the Kitsch-en Kounter to do a quick Halloween-themed "bake" - a Pumpkin-Spice-Cream-Cheese-Dark-Chocolate-Brownie Jack O' Lantern.

I saw a technique on the show where a contestant achieved a patterned cake by piping a tinted design into the cake pan and freezing it before adding the bulk of the cake batter.  With pathetically-primitive piping skills, I figured that I could at least eke out a classic jack o' lantern.  As a contrast to the main pumpkin cake,  I piped the design using a batch of dark-chocolate brownie batter, working out a crude, but recognizable, pumpkin face.  Without a proper pumpkin-shaped pan, I simply used a cake round, adding some contour lines and a top-knot stem.

I had no idea if the technique would actually work so I hedged my bets by adding the remaining brownie batter and a cheesecake swirl.  I figured that if the face did turn out, the cream-cheese-brownie swirl would be a great surprise; if the face didn't turn out, I would simply serve it swirl-side-up and no one would be the wiser.

Much to my surprise, it actually worked!
Meet the Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Jack O' Brownie Lantern!!!

My staunch refusal to adhere to the exacting standards of modern baked goods combined with the fact that this was an experimental recipe, meant that there was an overwhelming surplus of batter.  Undeterred, I thought WWMBD? (what would Mary Berry do?); immediately, I retrieved a loaf pan from the cupboard.

Using the remaining batters, I settled upon a pumpkin loaf with a cream cheese swirl.
It seemed a little unfinished, so I whipped up a quick streusel topping. 

I probably should have left well-enough alone.  With nowhere to go, the cream cheese swirl got lost somewhere between the pumpkin bread and the streusel topping.  As is my attitude with all of my baking experiments,
however, I believe that the taste is paramount - and nobody, but nobody, was complaining!

I might not be ready for the pressures of a "showstopper" challenge, but you can be darn sure that I am ready for the spookiest night of the year!

Not to worry, I am definitely not the weirdo handing out
homemade treats or, worse yet, pennies/pencils/raisins!

How are you preparing for the big day?  We hope it is with full-size candy bars!!!  However you choose to celebrate, we wish you a Happy and FRIENDLY Halloween!!!

Casper the Friendly Ghost in "To Boo or Not to Boo" (1951)


Mr. Tiny

Friday, October 9, 2015

wacky tacky icons: Agnes Moorehead

I had started composing this post about three years ago but somehow it got lost in the shuffle of the draft folder.  I was reminded of its existence when, bored and scrolling through Facebook, I took one of those online quizzes that logarithmically determines from which celebrated historical figure one is reincarnated, which ice cream flavor represents one's birth order, or which Disney princess one would most likely consume in the event of a fairy tale apocalypse - only this one tells you "which witch" you are (based on Hollywood's most famous examples).  I wasn't a bit surprised when the results came back "Endora!"  Equal parts mischievous, mean-spirited, and dramatic, Halloween seemed like the perfect time to cast a flickering light on television's favorite witch.

Samantha Stevens is not without her charms, but watching Bewitched was really just a waiting
game until Endora appeared in a flurry of lavender chiffon to deliver the show's wittiest lines
before disappearing into a puff of green smoke.

Most people remember Agnes Moorehead for the exaggerated eye make-up, infernal meddling, and intentional malapropisms (see: "Derwood, Darwin, Dagwood") of Endora.  To me, however, she will always be the cantankerous Mrs. Snow from Pollyanna.  "Pills and bills, just pills and bills!"

Quickly reformed by a bunch of violets and a healthy dose of prisms and quilt guilt!
Pollyanna (1960)

Like most character actors of her generation, Moorehead had what we in the business call "range."  Some of our favorite performances include:

The breathlessly-chic sociopath, Madge Rapf, in Dark Passage

Dark Passage (1947)

The merciless, celebrity evangelist, Sister Alma, in What's the Matter with Helen?
(Will the real Sister Aimee Semple McPherson please stand up?)

What's the Matter with Helen? (1971)

The unhinged, if incredibly loyal, family servant, Velma, in "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte"

"Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte" (1964)

The kindly hash-house confidante, Violette Shumberg, in The Big Street

The Big Street (1942)

Once she even played one of America's greatest first ladies,
Eleanor Roosevelt, for a television fundraiser in 1964.

Blessed with that slightly-affected dialect of New England society dames, Moorehead's languid tones and knack for transformation translated into a six-decade career in theater, radio, film, and television.  Her talent was as undeniable as her sophistication and offbeat beauty.


For all of the vanity intrinsic to her most-beloved portrayals, ego rarely played a part in Agnes Moorehead's character choices.  She was always willing to appear silly, strange, downright unlikeable, and...

...unapologetically wacky tacky!

Much is made of her personal life (divorces, illegitimate adoptions, sexuality) but those issues are of little consequence given her overwhelming contributions to the arts - not the least of which is my favorite game show of all time, What's My Line?

Agnes Moorehead as the mystery guest on What's My Line? (1973)

Agnes Moorehead's second go-round as mystery guest on What's My Line? (1973)

Given all of this information, the question remains this Halloween season, "Which WITCH are you?"

Are you a sweet Samantha or an enervating Endora...
or maybe just a "confirmed bachelor" like Uncle Arthur?

Now that you've decided which witch you are, you still have to decide what
you will be for Halloween; even a proper witch has to choose a costume!

From our coven to yours, Endora and I wish you a very peaceful and Happy Halloween!!!

Agnes Moorehead
December 6, 1900 - April 30, 1974


Mr. Tiny

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Crazy Crafty: Le Chat Noir

I'm seriously considering changing the name of this blog to "True Confessions" - mostly because I have spent the last two months cleaning out the family garage.  You read that correctly - the last two months!  After nine donations to the thrift store, ten oversized trash barrels filled, four truckloads hauled away by a scrap metal company, a large hazardous-waste removal (paint, car fluids, chemicals, etc.), three take-what-you-want days for family and friends, and two illegal visit to a commercial dumpster, the garage could still appear as the "before" reel on an episode of Hoarders (a necessary preamble so as to set the scene for one of the most frightening experiences of my life).  Warning: It's about to get all American Horror Story up in here.

Many years ago, around Halloween time, I was working on a term paper for an Ethics class.  As I am wont to do, I put off the paper until the last minute, foolishly believing that the time constraint would inspire genius.  Distracted by the many wonders of a ceiling fan, I lollygagged in our spare room (a room that happens to share a wall with the garage) waiting for inspiration to strike.  As the fan circulated the air, it also began circulating a faint-but-foul odor throughout the four walls of my paper-writing prison.  Recognizing the importance of gazing endlessly into the void of Microsoft Word, I decided that the odor would be another problem for another day.  The following day, the temperatures rose in direct correlation to the threat level of the odor.  But papers must be written!  I vainly hoped that somebody else in the house would notice the smell first, allowing me to coyly bat my eyes and innocently respond, "What smell?" when they inquired if I had also picked up on the scent (because, you know, ethics).  Unfortunately, I was to learn later that I was up against champion contestants in the I-Smell-Nothing Game.  By the third day, neither the term paper nor the the smell were improving.

Now unlike the garage, the spare room is rather tidy with very few places for a lingering odor to hide out.  So, after a cursory inspection of my surroundings, I plodded outside to the garage.  The roll-up door retracted only an inch before I knew that the call was coming from INSIDE THE GARAGE!!!  Faced by mountains of boxes, a piano, surfboards, Christmas decorations, guitar parts, thrift store treasures, power tools, garden gnomes, and long-forgotten furniture pieces, I knew that the better part of my afternoon would be dedicated to ferreting out the unholy odor.  It became a real game of cat-and-mouse as nose-blindness set in.  Gingerly shifting the contents of the garage, I grew increasingly panicky as I waded deeper into the abyss.  Next to a tumbled tote of my Halloween decor, I found a few realistic ravens, some plastic spiders, and one of those hissing, black cats with the glaring eyes and bared teeth.  It wasn't until I leaned over to return it to the bin with the rest of the decorations that I remembered I didn't have a Halloween Cat!  Neighbors gathered after they heard the scream.

The call to Animal Control went something like this:

"Hi, um, [sniff] we have a cat in our garage...but it's not our cat.  Actually, I'm allergic to cats so we couldn't have a cat even if we wanted one.  Oh yeah, [sniff, sniff] and this cat is dead.  But we didn't kill it.  It's just dead.  And my sister and her husband moved to Hawaii and left half their stuff, so the garage is really full, so the cat is kinda hidden and I'm afraid of cats because I'm allergic to them.  So do you guys come and get cats?  Because we don't want it.  And also, we're not hoarders [sniff]."

Convincing, no?

Inspired by the Halloween season and a desire to fill the serious feline void I discovered in our holiday decor, I set out to make a proper, odor-free, Halloween Cat with materials found only in my fabric stash.

Et voilĂ !  Le Chat Noir
I was forced to dress it in a jaunty, little Halloween outfit...just
so I could tell it from all the other dead cats in the garage.

I never think of myself as the type of person to sit around making precious little 
outfits for dolls but I guess Halloween is a time for many a cruel discovery.

The jacket is a few scraps of my favorite Marimekko print and the pants are made
of an autumnal-plaid remnant that will be featured in a forthcoming Sew What?! post.

Having used the faux fur for a few different projects, I didn't realize until the cat was near
completion that it was quite so shaggy.  At one point I could have continued making
the cat or gone all the way and made a replica of Eddie Munster's beloved Woof-Woof.
Instead, I held the course, choosing to give it a little haircut along the way.

The "eyes" have it!
The face went through many iterations; in the end, I decided that simple was best.
The crescent-shaped eyes are made of vintage buttons and vinyl.

I thought I was done, but looking over the cat, I decided that it needed a finishing touch - a hat.
Believe it or not, I just happened to have a miniature, coral-orange, conical hat in stock that I
trimmed with rickrack and a black pompom.

By the time I finished Le Chat Noir, I was reminded that as hard as I try, I will never be a "cat person."

The closest I might come would be this rather literal interpretation of "cat person."
As if I wasn't already questioning my decision to make a stuffed cat, I now realize it
could have been worse; I could be the crazy cat stuffed into the cat's pajamas!!!

Epilogue:  Just in case you were wondering, the Animal Control technician assured us that the cat was elderly and had died of natural causes.  He explained that often times cats, aware that the end of their ninth life is drawing nigh, will seek out a comfortable place to expire.  I was placated by his attestations of our innocence...but not by the fact that the cat's "comfortable place" was the cushion of the vintage sofa given to me by my grandmother.  Undoubtedly you've heard of the remarkable images imprinted on the Shroud of Turin; well, imagine the shroud is threadbare upholstery and instead of the vestigial visage of Christ our Lord, the shadowed simulacrum of a former feline.  Yep, I am definitely not a cat person.

"The Great Cat Family" (1956)


Mr. Tiny