Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Several years ago, a friend of mine who owned a little shop on Pearl Street in La Jolla hired me to make some masks for her to sell during the holiday shopping season. Although they sold well, (well, they sold out!) she and her husband embarked on a new business venture shortly after, and closed their shop.

For years I've been wanting to get back to making these. They combine a lot of things I love: sculpture, painting, and recycling! Plus they are wearable art, and draw from a centuries-old commedia tradition in Italy.

The process is simple, but time-consuming. I start with a positive plaster mold of a face. I then build clay up on the face until I get the shape I want. I mix some plaster of paris, pour it over the clay, and, after it hardens, I have a negative that I paper-mache into.

Although there are a lot of new products available for paper-mache art, I stick to the classics: newspaper and wheat paste. I started adding in brown paper bags for a little strength.

After building up about a dozen mache layers, I let the masks dry, remove them from the molds, and start sanding and shaping them. After the first sanding, I paint them with a light coat of acrylic paint. Then I can see where more sanding is needed, and I cut out the eye holes.

At this point, I remembered to take a picture! Here's a pile o'masks midway through the sanding process:

The next step will be to coat them with a layer of gesso, do any final sanding, and then, at long last, I get to the fun part: the decorative painting and embellishing.

I can't wait!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

How not to knit a sock

Flew to Seattle this past weekend to see my new, one-month-old nephew, among other things. In my mind I had a pair of socks and a hat finished before I landed. I started the first sock in the airport in San Diego, waiting for the plane.

Don't laugh! This is totally realistic, considering that I had an hour-plus flight, a three-hour layover in Salt Lake City, and another hour and a half flight. Besides, baby socks are tiny and I was knitting on size three needles with Regia sock yarn.

I cast on in the car on the way to the airport. The pattern called for 24 stitches. After knitting a few rounds in 2x2 rib, I thought they looked awfully small, frogged back, and cast on an additional 12 stitches.

I had the cuff and heel flap knitted before we landed. Three hours of waiting for the next plane, and I figure I'll turn the heel, finish the foot, graft the toe, and cast on for the second sock before boarding.

But I cast on 36 stitches instead of 24, and the pattern is frustratingly unclear about the heel-turning algorithm, and this is only my third pair of socks, and for the life of me I cannot turn this heel! I understand short rows, have no problem with short rows, I love short rows! But I'm getting some of the weirdest shapes from whatever it is I come up with to turn the heel.

Three hours later we're boarding the plane. I've knit and frogged four times, stopping in between each one and trying to figure out WHAT this pattern is telling me. Do I work a total of ten stitches, or do I work to 2 stitches away from the end of the row? Do I then turn and work four stitches, or do I turn and purl 3 stitches from the end on the other side? I'm doing math, praying to the Sock Goddess, knitting with my eyes closed in the hopes that muscle memory will kick in, I vaguely recall something about SSK and K2tog and slipping and something about three stitches from the end and...

It's no use. I put it aside and work on the other sock I have with me, the one where I am actually FOLLOWING the pattern. We land, have some rental car hell, and get to the hotel after midnight.

I awake the next day refreshed, but we're in a hurry to get going, so I don't have time to get online and figure this out. We finally make it to a coffee shop midafternoon and I find this.

I turn the heel in under ten minutes.

The rest of the day was full, got to my brothers and SIL's house late that night, with babies and mom asleep already. Richie stayed up and we talked for a couple of hours. It's weird to see little brother all grown up and talking about wiring switches and replacing windows. We were able to see Sara, etc., only briefly the next morning but it was great!!! Unfortunately we all had to go in different directions, and I left with an unfinished sock and a threat to return for a week-long visit.

Finished the first sock on the plane on the way back. Did Kitchener stitch FROM MEMORY.

It should fit him perfectly. In two years.

Above, the BIG SOCK and two smaller ones.