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15 posts from March 2008

26 March 2008

Go Fug Your Room

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This room graced the March cover of Elle Decor magazine and I hesitate to include it as a Go Fug Your Room candidate because I like the unusual colour scheme very much indeed.

But I looked more closely and realised that I didn't really like any item in this room.  Every piece is just that bit too ornate and fussy for my taste. Too much piping, gilding, carved wood, embroidery, stuffing, inlay, pattern and stuff.  Each of these pieces would probably work fine on their own as accents amongst plainer pieces, but together for me they all add up to just, well, too much.

I'm intrigued to know what you think, as I suspect that this room is really more  'American' in taste and I'm planning some blog posts about the differences between US and UK interior design. 

Here's the poll - if you feel like saying where you're from in the comments that would be great.

Lisa in India

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Photos of the 'Holi' festival from Lisa's blog

OK. This is completely and utterly off-topic, but my friend Lisa from Victoria BC is now in India and she's started a blog about her travels.

Which I strongly advise you to check out if you've ever wondered what it would be like to leave your job and go wandering for a year.  Fabulous and fascinating photos too.

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23 March 2008

I'm knitting socks!

I think there comes a time in every knitter's life when they consider whether to knit socks. 

I think socks come more naturally to Americans than the British because Americans are far more used to knitting 'in the round' on circular needles.  In the UK I think I'm right in saying that more people knit, as I do, on long straight needles (which are very difficult to find here). So the idea of knitting on four tiny double pointed needles scared the heebie jeebies out of me.

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But one of the things which is so inspiring about Yarnstorm's book/blog are the fabulous socks she turns out and when I came across this crazy yarn, I decided that the time had come for me to learn.

Thank god for YouTube.  The basic sock pattern they sent with the wool was completely incomprehensible to me as I'd never even watched anyone knit socks before and couldn't even fathom out how to set up the needles.  YouTube truly is a fabulous resource for knitters and I found this series of tutorials particularly clear and useful.

I'm loving watching the yarn resolve itself into skinny stripes.  The colours graduate through all the warm colours of the spectrum and I love the way they play off each other to create different, unexpected, combinations and textures. I thought the socks might end up too garish for words but they're actually almost subtle. And the Minx is very, very jealous indeed.

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I've actually nearly finished the first sock and am totally addicted.  There's enough mindless knitting around the circle that I can knit in front of dreadful reality TV and enough complicated stuff to ensure that I don't lose my mind with boredom.  And they're small enough to pander to my project ADD.

I'm knitting socks!

I think there comes a time in every knitter's life when they consider whether to knit socks. 

I think socks come more naturally to Americans than the British because Americans are far more used to knitting 'in the round' on circular needles.  In the UK I think I'm right in saying that more people knit, as I do, on long straight needles (which are very difficult to find here). So the idea of knitting on four tiny double pointed needles scared the heebie jeebies out of me.

174

But one of the things which is so inspiring about Yarnstorm's book/blog are the fabulous socks she turns out and when I came across this crazy yarn, I decided that the time had come for me to learn.

Thank god for YouTube.  The basic sock pattern they sent with the wool was completely incomprehensible to me as I'd never even watched anyone knit socks before and couldn't even fathom out how to set up the needles.  YouTube truly is a fabulous resource for knitters and I found this series of tutorials particularly clear and useful.

I'm loving watching the yarn resolve itself into skinny stripes.  The colours graduate through all the warm colours of the spectrum and I love the way they play off each other to create different, unexpected, combinations and textures. I thought the socks might end up too garish for words but they're actually almost subtle. And the Minx is very, very jealous indeed.

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I've actually nearly finished the first sock and am totally addicted.  There's enough mindless knitting around the circle that I can knit in front of dreadful reality TV and enough complicated stuff to ensure that I don't lose my mind with boredom.  And they're small enough to pander to my project ADD.

22 March 2008

More Cooking In Translation - Hot Cross Buns

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My photo of the buns

It's funny how important the 'old country's' food traditions become when you move abroad.  Hot cross buns are now available all year round in England and are no longer such a big deal - though I still remember fondly feasting on hot cross buns for breakfast on Good Friday morning and being excited because my father was home on a Friday (Good Friday is a public holiday in the UK).

But here they scarce as hens' teeth and need to be sought out even at Easter time. And even when you can get them, they're somewhat spoilt by having an cross piped on them in white icing.  Which is OK as far as it goes but means you miss out on the essential splendour of toasting the buns and serving them oozing with butter.  They're supposed to be hot. (The clue is in the name).

So yesterday the Minx and I set to work.  Having had only mediocre success with the usually reliable Delia in the past, I used this recipe from the BBC website which came highly recommended by some food blog or other (I'm sorry I can't remember which).

And then I came across my usual raft of translation issues. 

I couldn't find a source of fresh yeast (a big fat boo to the Essential Baking Company - I'm not linking to them -  who refused to sell me any) so substituted one of those little sachets which seemed to work fine.

'Mixed spice' is a unknown quantity here.  I had to look that up on the Internet, to find that it's a mixture of cinnamon and nutmeg with possibly some cloves and ginger.  So that could be recreated.

Mixed peel, however, was impossible to track down. Chopped, candied citrus peel turns up in all sorts of British home baking and is traditional in hot cross buns, even though the slightly bitter flavour is disliked by many and the peel if often picked out.

But who knew?  I made the buns without and although they tasted wonderful that slightly bitter edge was definitely missed.

I followed the recipe and piped on crosses of flour and water paste which are then baked in the oven so they form an integral part of the bun. And then we gobbled them up, hot from the oven, with plenty of butter. Although the Minx proved how American she has become by requesting a 'cold crossed bun' sic.

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The Minx's photo of the buns taken with her new camera.  We were both so proud. 

21 March 2008

Hooray!

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Much jubilation in the household today as we have just learned that the Minx has been accepted at the local French immersion school and, come September, will join their petite maternelle section and be taught 80% in French. The school itself is lovely with small class sizes and a real family atmosphere and the Minx loved it to bits in her 'interviews'. 

I studied French at university and can speak it pretty well, but even after twelve years of study could never match the effortless bilingualism that tiny children can muster if taught early enough.  We're absolutely thrilled that she's going to get this opportunity and happy because it also means she will receive a rather more Euro-centric education than she would have done in a normal American school -useful for when we decide to return. And even better, it means that going to live in France in a few years is now a possibility.

Having said which, it looks like we might be staying in Seattle longer than we originally thought as the chances of her getting such a good education back in London are zero.   And the thought that the Minx's education is now sorted for the foreseeable future is a very relaxing one.

And yes, I do realise that we are just one big hideous ambulatory middle-class parental cliche'.

17 March 2008

Seattle Design Meet Up - Matte Stephens

So, get this in your diaries pronto quick.  The next meet-up will be on April 16th at Velocity's new location in South Lake Union and the guest speaker will be Matte Stephens!

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Images from Matte's blog

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Matte is moving from Alabama to Portland, Oregon, so we thought this would be a great opportunity to welcome him to the Pacific Northwest and hear him talk about being an independent artist. John from Velocity has been a long time stockist of his work, so we will also be able to get a retailer's perspective.

I'll post up details here closer to the time (when they've actually been finalised).  Please contact me here if you would like to be added to our event mailing list.

Here's a bit more scoop on Matte, who has been taking blogland by storm in recent months.

Podcast on Design*Sponge: Matte Stephens and Irving Harper

Podcast on Decor8: Matte Stephens

Matte's Etsy shop

A Bag with Bangs

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In general I've found it better to use words like 'elevator' and 'eggplant' (rather than lift and aubergine) round these parts in order to have any chance of being understood.  I still though, find myself far too embarrassed to say 'bangs' (the American word for a fringe of hair over your forehead).  I mean, where on earth did that come from?

I've just finished the Minx's little messenger bag - and contrary to normal experience, I'm not so very fed up of knitting that I never wish to pick up needles again.  In fact I've just started a new project.

The bag was the perfect way to get back into knitting - easy enough to knit mindlessly, while the moss stich embellishment I added was just enough to stop it becoming unbelievably tedious. The best bit though was making the fringe (PLEASE don't tell me Americans call a fringe on a thing 'bangs' as well), which I'd never done before.

After knotting it all up I was supposed to give the bag a hair cut and make the fringe even round the bottom. As you can see I didn't really succeed (the right hand side is definitely longer than the left) but I was terrified of getting into one of those haircutting situations where you keep cutting at it to make it even and end up with a fringe (or indeed bangs) that look like Herman Munster's (the Minx has a permanently wonky fringe for the same reason).

The only downside with this bag is the garter stitch strap. The Minx's first action was to put a heavy jigsaw puzzle into the bag and it stretched so much that it hung somewhere around her knees...

I'll try and get a photo of Minx and bag to post up, so you can see the full effect.

16 March 2008

Helvetica

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Yesterday I fed my inner geek and sat down to watch the film Helvetica - a documentary film about a font.

I got very into fonts when we were designing the mirrormirror logo and spent ages searching through font libraries to find something to convey the sense of feminine yet contemporary that we felt the brand was all about (and we didn't end up with Helvetica).

Still, it seemed difficult to imagine how on earth a single typeface could be the subject of a feature-length documentary, particularly when the documentary is very plainly shot, with no special effects or historical reconstructions, just lots of graphic designer talking heads and shot after shot of Helvetica logos and signage.

What I had never realised before is just ubiquitous Helvetica is, both in Europe and the US. It truly is the default font of the last half century.

Designed in the 50s in Switzerland,  its spare lines and careful attention to proportion and negative space was very much a product of European modernism (the section about the font's history is absolutely fascinating).

After changing its name from the unattractive Das Neue Haas Grotesk, to an easily pronounced name which celebrated its Swiss roots, Helvetica became hugely popular with both major corporations seeking to give a 'modern' feel to their image and with governments and municipalities who valued its clarity and legibility.  As the film proves, the font really is absolutely everywhere - from the Dutch telephone book to the American Apparel logo - and pops up in the unlikeliest places

What gives the film its edge is the passion with which the graphic designers interviewed were either for or against Helvetica.  For some it is the ultimate, unimprovable font - as plain and beautiful and necessary to the visual culture as water or air is to life. For others it is the symbol of globalisation and corporate dominance - one engaging female designer thought it was the typeface of the Vietnam and  Iraqi wars. 

Some designers loved the restrictions inherent in using it,seeking to refresh it with different spacing and weights; while others condemned the lack of imagination needed to choose it, saying, 'if you're not a very good designer, just choose Helvetica Bold for your typeface and it will look OK.'

In fact who knew how fascinating and funny graphic designers could be?  I loved the chap who designed his wedding invitations in Helvetica and wanted to credit creator Max Miedinger on the order of service until vetoed by his wife.

Go see this film and spend the next few days spotting Helvetica everywhere you go - it's not really about a font, but more a very entertaining conversation about how type and therefore visual culture affects our lives.

I thought I would write this post in Helvetica as a small homage. But Helvetica doesn't exist on Microsoft computers.  Instead you will have to make do with Arial, which was conceived as a copy of Helvetica and now, thanks to Microsoft, is as ubiquitous online as Helvetica is off.

15 March 2008

My new crush

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Piers Morgan, mostly because, well, I'm a sucker for any man who can make me laugh.

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But watching Piers being utterly and totally obnoxious here on the Celebrity Apprenticerunning rings round all the has-been actors, singers and sportspeople, because he has more business-savvy in his little finger than all of them put together and a fatter contacts book even in New York than all the Americans on the show -  has been utterly hilarious TV. 

He is another in the long line of outspoken Brits (such as Simon Cowell and Gordon Ramsay) who don't give a flying f*ck what anyone thinks of them and are so shocking to Americans because everyone here is so concerned with their public image.

And somewhere buried deep in all the ridiculous shenanigans with all the ridiculous people, there are some interesting business lessons to be learned about the power of networking, the value of just mucking in and getting things done even if you have to parade through the streets of New York dressed as King Arthur, and the fact that you can say practically anything in a British accent and people will take you seriously.

13 March 2008

Seattle Creative Meet Ups

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After the Biz Lady meet up in Seattle, I left my email addy on Design*Sponge to see if anyone wanted to continue meeting up.

And lo and behold, one of the people who responded was John Tusher of Velocity, who wanted to keep the inspiration going and was offering the new Velocity store as a location!

So on Monday I had tea with John to have a chat about the format such meetings could take. 

We thought that it would be good to aim for monthly meetings and we would get a guest speaker or panel of speakers for each one (John's obviously got some great contacts he can tap).  We also wanted to set aside a bit more time for socializing and networking afterwards.

We thought it would have more of a general design focus rather than just a business focus, though we might touch on small business-related topics at some point.  Oh and given John's involvement, and the general design focus, we thought it would be odd if it were exclusively for women, though it would probably have a preponderance of women attending given what it has sprung from.

So I really just wanted to open this up to get people's thoughts and ideas on the above.  I've sort of ended up doing this by default and am keen to create something that everyone feels a part of and will enjoy.

All ideas, comments and suggestions are hugely welcome - either via email or in the comments below.  We'd particularly love to hear from you if you've got good ideas for a great name; know someone who would be a good guest speaker; can point us in the direction of wine/cheese/bakery sponsors; or want to get involved in any way.  If you're a Seattle-based blogger and think your readers might be interested it would be immensely helpful if you could point them in this direction.

Most importantly, email me if you would like to attend the first meet-up, which we're aiming to have organised for mid-April. 

The bad news is that John doesn't like the siting of the new coffee table either.(How weird is it when someone you've never met before, can tell you all about your interior decor? Sometimes this blog thing freaks me out.)

Editing to say that we've set a date and managed to line up an absolutely FANTABULOUS first guest speaker.  However, I'm going to leave the announcement until Monday, because no one comes here at the weekend.  I promise it's exciting though!

12 March 2008

Cooking in Translation

 

It's funny the things you end up missing as an expat.  Who would have imagined that glace cherries would be among them? But I haven't been able to find those ridiculously sweet and sugary candied fruits in US supermarkets, until a few weeks ago when I found a pot in DeLaurenti, Seattle's legendary Italian deli.

 

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So the Minx and I set to with a will to make Nigella's Cherry Almond Loaf Cake from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, mostly so that the Minx would get to experience that quintessentially British childhood cooking experience of shoving as many sickly sweet and sticky cherries into her gob as humanly possible.  It is no coincidence that Jane Brocket from Yarnstorm's new book on classic childhood cooking will be entitled Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer.

 

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Note that my precious cherries were of the traditional lipstick scarlet variety and probably full of unmentionable additives.   Nigella suggests using the more natural dark red ones, and yes, Nigella, I would if I could.

 

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Cooking from a UK book in the US is not without its challenges. You will notice that UK books use metric measurements instead of cup measures (to which I have become entirely converted since living here).  So I first had to fiddle with my scales to stop them weighing in pounds and ounces.  (The hyperlinked recipe above gives quantities in cup measures, presumably from the US version of HTBADG).

Self-raising flour also doesn't exist in the US, so I had to refer to the Internets to find out how to make it from plain flour (add 1tsp of baking powder to every 125g/4oz of flour according to Good Housekeeping). And then I had to use the Internets again to find out how to convert centigrade temperatures to Fahrenheits. Can someone somewhere please unify all these measures immediately? It really is doing my head in.

But the resulting cake is one of those quietly delicious cakes that you appreciate much more in adulthood.  I had to add a brown sugar crust (not exactly a hardship) to appease the Minx's disgust at the lack of 'sprinkles'. And yes, the cherries did sink towards the bottom of the cake, as is only traditional and right.

 

 

10 March 2008

Gorgeous Ceramics - Kim Westad

I came across Kim on Flickr recently and fell in love with her beautiful ceramics.  I really like how she uses what look like cake-icing techniques to decorate her pieces with tiny slip dots in various patterns.

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I had to treat myself to this for my breakfast cereal (NB to Husband -it's OK, it was in the SALE).  I do love how Etsy hides the prices after things have been sold.

If I were richer or had a shop that was actually making money, I would treat myself to these mugs - such fabulous colours. 

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Or this utterly gorgeous whirly dish for nibbles.

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Check out Kim's shop for more lusciousness.  (Another NB to Husband - any chance of making my blog a bit wider?)

06 March 2008

Design*Sponge Biz Ladies Meet Up - Seattle

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Picture from Grace's Seattle Flickr set. 

Last  Thursday night I went along to the Design*Sponge Biz Ladies Meet Up in Seattle which was hugely inspiring. Who knew that there were that many creative women in Seattle?  The place was utterly heaving.

There were four guest speakers and we split up into four groups and then rotated between the speakers.  The format worked pretty well, though it would have been great to have more time just for general chat. See some pictures of the event here.

All the speakers were great, though I was particularly inspired Grace's talk about PR - I hadn't realised she used to work for an interiors PR company - which was full of really useful insights; and the Q&A session with John Tusher, founder of Velocity Art and Design

What a lovely man! From starting in a basement wrapping up orders himself, he has done what I dream of doing with mirrormirror and it was fascinating to hear him speak.  Read a great interview with him here on Decorno.

The cute thing was that Grace really loved Seattle! It's funny, I've only been here a year, but I feel very proprietorial of this city and it's so nice when people like it as much as I do.

03 March 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

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Go and see this and remember what it means to be human.  Take tissues.

This blog post about the original book (which is also awesome, and which I didn't think could translate to film but does superbly) is really thought-provoking. Oh, and the soundtrack is great as well.