Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Cross Stitch Gaming Sprites

I was recently given a cross stitch magazine by a visitor. I hadn't cross stitched since I was little (I made an egg cozy with a chick on it in Brownies!), but I tried out a simple design with my free gift, and made these adorable sweeties.

My husband was fascinated with how simply and quickly the designs came together. "They look like pixels" declared his inner computer geek. "Can I have a go?"

He took a few hours over this Pokemon sprite, and we both thought it looked brilliant. I've seen Hamma Bead sprites before, but hadn't thought to interpret sprites into cross stitch. Being big fans of retro games, we both got stitching. Next, he made my favourite characters from Final Fantasy VI.

I've since made Chrono from Chrono Trigger and Mog from Final Fantasy 6. I think these look great! And they'll be a great way to customise a gift for a retro gamer. Sprites are small, and so the designs only take a couple of hours at most to complete, so they're a brilliant quick project. Does anyone else do this? I'd love to see any other cross stitched sprites!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Cosplay Tutorial -Princess Garnet Crown

If you haven't already realised, I'm a little bit of a geek, and one of my geeky pass times is cosplay - dressing up as fictional characters and hanging out with other awesome people also dressed as fictional characters!

I've recently been clearing out my wardrobe of cosplay costumes that I don't think I'm going to wear any longer, and selling them on. This costume is from my favourite video game of all time, Final Fantasy IX, and the character is Garnet, a young princess who is forced to make a lot of difficult decisions for the good of her country. I'd wanted to cosplay Garnet since I'd discovered what cosplay was, and I received the custom made dress as an 18th birthday present.

I didn't make the dress, but I did make the accessories, and the crown/headpiece I am particularly proud of. So I thought I'd put together a short tutorial that explains what I did, so that others wanting to make this crown can give it a go. It's very low cost, in fact you could probably make this for under £10 if you got the materials at the right price.

You will need a thin silver headband (not too thin, wide enough to glue things onto).
Craft Foam Pieces (these can be bought from most craft shops, they're usually used by little children to make cards and pictures- you could cut craft foam sheets to shape, but you get much more uniform designs by buying these little pieces)
Silver Acrylic Paint
Large Flat Green Bead or Jewel
Small Green and White beads
White Sewing Thread and a sharp needle

First sort through your foam pieces to get the shapes you need. You may have to cut some to get the desired size and shape.

The crown is made of 5 main parts.

The middle part is the setting for the green jewel. The parts to either side of that are "wing shaped". And then either side of those wing shapes is a large, intricate design, which is mirrored on either side of the crown.

I spent a while, probably up to half an hour, checking my reference pictures and arranging these larger intricate designs. You can see the shapes I eventually ended up with in the picture below, and the different colours of foam allows you to see exactly how I layered the pieces. When I was happy with the arrangement I glued the pieces together with hot glue, and mirrored it for the other design. I did the same for the other 3 pieces on the crown.

Next I hot glued the foam shapes onto the headband, being careful to position the pieces so that the crown was symmetrical.
Then, the crown was ready to paint.

I used silver acrylic paint because it's cheap and easy to clean up if you make a mess! It took several coats of paint to hide the bright colours of the foam, but it was worth it.

Adding the beads was a little more tricky. Following the reference pictures, I made 6 strings of 4 green and 2 white beads onto sewing thread, and then stitched these strings into the foam at the front of the headband. It's very easy to get a sharp needle through the foam. I then simply secured the threads with a few sturdy knots, and added a little silver paint to hide the threads. I hot glued the green bead in place-it's best to do this after all painting is finished and dried!

I added a thick coat of varnish to the whole headband. This not any acts as a second "glue" to keep everything in place and a protective waterproof layer for the paint, it also serves to "blend" the lines between the foam slightly, giving the crown a more carved metal look than a painted craft foam look!

Finally, I needed to add the chains that are at the back of the crown. I looked into adding metal chains, but they were all rather heavy and caused the headband to bend, and I was worried about them damaging the foam. So instead, I took some ordinary string and painted it silver, and tied these onto the crown, just under the wing shaped foam pieces. I used two pieces of string, one slightly longer than the other, as Garnet has two chains on her head dress, one that sits just below the other.

I was very pleased with the crown, and it's stood the test of time, with only minor repair works being needed after wearing it to several conventions.

If you cosplay Garnet I'd love to see pictures!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Menu Planning

I've recently been watching The Box on BBC1. It's a cooking show where contestants are given a box of ingredients and challenged to cook a meal. On a recent episode one contestant was given a box marked "leftovers". In it was some cooked pasta, boiled potatoes, half a bell pepper, cooked salmon and the stalk from a floret of broccoli.

The contestant visibly groaned when he saw those ingredients. I felt a thrill of excitement. I can make a meal out of that! One of my greatest culinary achievements to date was learning from my housemate how to make leftover broccoli stalks tasty! No gourmet food in our house, but nothing ever goes in the bin.

I love cooking. I find it relaxing to prepare food, I love trying a new recipe or idea out in the kitchen. I love opening the fridge, seeing what we've got, and coming up with a bizarre concoction out of leftovers. My husband is a capable cook, but he is not the king of leftovers. He needs a recipe, and all the ingredients laid out in front of him. If he's not got something on the list he begins to panic.

Recently I've been all but banished from the kitchen. I get numbness in my limbs which means I can't tell if I get hurt, and my arms will spasm out of my control, causing me to drop or throw things (like pans of boiling water, or knives). My legs hurt if I stand for long periods of time. I manage to cook maybe one simple meal a week, and even then I probably shouldn't. So the burden of food preparation has fallen on my husband.

Suddenly, we found we never had the right food in the fridge. We were reaching for the takeaway menu more often than was reasonable (or affordable!). And we found ourselves arguing about food, about the cost, on a fairly regular basis.

So we sat down and planned a menu.

At the beginning of the week we write down 7 meals we want to eat. Then, based on that menu, we write a shopping list. We include one meal I can safely cook for a day when I'm feeling well, and one "easy" meal for a night we just can't be bothered, so something like a frozen pizza. If my husband hasn't cooked it before I will write out a simple recipe for him, or find him a simple recipe online.

We then ensure that we buy all the ingredients needed to make those meals, and not more (so there aren't any leftovers for me to fret about throwing away!). We don't designate a meal to a given night because my condition is so changeable. We never know when I'm going to have a good day.

We're three weeks into this new plan, and we've not yet had a meal out or a takeaway, which is a big step for us, and a huge saving financially!

It's been hard to let go of the control of the kitchen, but my husband is so much happier for it being arranged in a way he feels comfortable to cook. Not only has he started to feel comfortable with preparing our meals; this morning I was woken with pancakes for breakfast.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Socialising and Handwriting

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and have been off work long term since January. One of the big problems I’ve faced has been loneliness.

I’ve found a few things to alleviate this problem. One thing is to make it clear to all my friends and family that they are welcome to invite themselves around or to just pop in. I’ve been socialising with other people who are unwell, or who are off work for another reason; maybe they’re on maternity leave, or retired. You don’t just have to socialise in person either, which is great news if you can’t get out because of fatigue or pain. Texting, phoning and social media are all great ways to catch up with friends and brighten your day!

After my most recent relapse though, I discovered a way to socialise that I haven’t used in years. I’ve been struggling to grip with my right hand because of pain on the right hand side of my body, and as I’m right handed this caused all kinds of problems! I keep dropping things, I’m taking a long time to do normal jobs, and writing by hand was nearly impossible!

My physio insisted that I practice things that are difficult, to remind my nerves what they were supposed to feel. So I decided to write some letters by hand to cheer up some friends. I had six greetings cards knocking about, so I offered to write to the first 6 Facebook friends who wanted a card.

It was incredibly therapeutic to write letters. Physically speaking, it got easier as I went on, though I needed a break between each card, and it took me most of the day. Emotionally however, it was so lovely to put other people first, and think of ways to encourage or cheer up people I love!

This is definitely going to be an ongoing therapy for me, as more than 6 people wanted cards in the end. I’ll have to watch the cost of the stamps though!

If you’re feeling lonely today, why not try writing a letter? Write to someone who’s helped you, to someone who you’ve not spoken to in a while, or just ask who’d like a letter. After all, we all love getting nice surprises in the post.