Practically Perfect in Every Way

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It’s grand to be an Englishman in 1910!
King Edward’s on the throne, it’s the age of men!

I’m the lord of my castle, the sovereign, the liege!

I treat my subjects, servants, children, wife with a firm but gentle hand, noblesse oblige.

It’s 6:03 and the heirs to my dominion are scrubbed and tubbed, and adequately fed.

]And so I’ll pat them on the head, and send them off to bed.
Ah, lordly is the life I lead!

…Winifred, where are the children?

Practically Perfect in Every Way

My second needlepoint project: Pixel Tree

My second needlepoint project is almost done; I’m stitching in the blue-gray between the orange checkerboard squares. Apparently, I like to photograph and post this stuff when it reaches 70% completion. Here it is:

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I found the tree design while searching for “Pixel Art Tutorial.” I came across this great page full of swords, potions, and white-haired warlords scowling into the wind (all traditional eight-bit subjects). Here, pixel-artist Mithlomion shows you how to add greenery into your three-quarter-view adventure game:

Marianne from local needlepoint joint Fireside Stitchery showed me how to stretch a canvas onto a lightweight frame (wooden bars, rabbet joints, lots and lots of brass thumbtacks), and I bought a bunch of short hanks of tapestry wool (three-ply yarn; you separate the strands and stitch with just one at a time.

The challenge was to get the design on to the canvas. Since the design has so many different scattered pixels all over the place — and I didn’t want to freehand it yet — I tried making color separations.

I opened the tutorial image in Photoshop cropped to just the tree, and zoomed way in to the pixel level. Then did a “select color range” on each of the seven colors, floating each color as a separate layer. I then added register marks around the border, and a number to each separation to keep the colors straight. Here’s what the color separations look like:

Jesus, and I thought fly tying was an exacting hobby.

Next, I monkeyed with the pixel resolution and device resolution of the file to match the canvas’ 18 threads-per-inch resolution. I tried sending a 53-pixel-wide file to the printer at a device resolution of 18 pixels per inch, but the printer’s own scaling algorithms softened the hard edges of the pixels, and everything looked mushy.

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So, after a few false starts, I rezzed up the image to 10 times its original size, using Photoshop’s Image >> Image Size dialog. I used “Nearest Neighbor” for the resampling, to preserve the hard edges of each pixel. Then I set the device resolution to 180pixels per inch, and sent to the printer. This resulted in a nice, clean print of each color separation at the right size, theoretically suitable for tracing directly to the canvas.

I cut out each separation, put it on a light box, and laid the canvas over that, marking each thread intersection to be stitched with a Pigma marker (in needlepoint, a “pixel” corresponds to the cross where two threads of the canvas join; the yarn gets stiched around that.) Marking in four shades of green would be impossible to tell apart, so I mapped the colors: black for the darkest green, green for the next lightest, red for the next lightest, et cetera. The canvas ended up looking like a thermal-heat map, or a particularly lurid paint-by-numbers design.

Frankly, this didn’t work so well. Needlepoint canvas isn’t a strictly regular 18 threads per inch, and unless you possess superhuman canvas-stretching skills, it’s not really square, either. So I think I was working against the medium, here, and the registration ended up being pretty significantly off. For example, my canvas has a _lot_ more of the lightest green (separation 7) than the original art does.

Of course, this does not matter — I think the design looks cool, and each step of the process was (mostly) a Fun Learning Adventure. One solution would be “start freehanding it, you obsessive nerd!” However, I enjoy having pixel-level control over the design before it’s stitched, so I think I’m going to continue to find a way to assign each thread-intersection a color explicitly. Like counted cross-stitch, except I much prefer the wooly texture and thick dimension of needlepoint. Maybe if I get really good at stretching a canvas square, I’ll have better luck maintaining precise resolutions.

Here’s a closeup of the mostly-finished design. What do you think?

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My second needlepoint project: Pixel Tree

It’s a thousand degrees behind those metal shutters!

Kate, Lydia, and I went to the West Chester Fire Department‘s Fire Safety Training day on Saturday:

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We watched a shiny blue Penn medevac helicopter take off, and we waved “hi” to Smokey the Bear (who had big ol’ furry plumber butt), and we watched them light a big fire in the “burn building” of hay and straw, then practice rescuing a downed firefighter, and we all came home smelling like campfire. It was a really great time.

Ps. Everything in a fire truck is snapped into a cradle or holster, and everything is upholstered in quilted leather, and the seats are custom-built so that your oxygen harness fits right in there. It is unbelievably, gut-wrenchingly awesome.

It’s a thousand degrees behind those metal shutters!

Needed: a companionable, quiet, stench-free hobby.

I’ve been looking for an indoor, living-room-friendly hobby to do at night, when I get home from work. Something that makes me present in the world of people and things, leaves my brain free for conversation with my lovely wife, and doesn’t involve reeking hydrocarbons. Kate’s knitting is the Ultimate Hobby Activity, as far as I’m concerned; it’s a skill that takes a lifetime to master, occupies her hands, allows her to talk, and results in making really beautiful, lasting things. And she can do it pretty much anywhere.

Has to be a Man Hobby? Nah.
I briefly considered whether I was going to include “must be traditionally male” as a requirement for hobby selection, but the “traditionally male” requirement seems to be antithetical to the “no smoke or smells” requirement. That leaves scrimshaw, I suppose, but I don’t want to have to put away a rack full of incredibly sharp chisels every night, when I’m tired and clumsy. And then I’d have to pick whalebone shavings out of the carpet. Plus, how many pairs of mermaid boobies do I really want to carve?* So if my new hobby involves painting watercolors of fuzzy kittens while we watch “Dancing with the Stars”, so be it.

Knitting is out
I tried knitting, but unfortunately that filled me with rage. I respect the hobby and the people that do it, and I recognize that if I worked my way through the learning period it would probably get better, but frankly it seemed like all the worst parts of fly-tying, combined with all the worst parts of learning the piano. I’m sorry, Michelle, I think the baby sweater project is officially a bust.

Juggling? Prestidigitation? Card sharping? Knot-tying?
I also tried: learning more contact juggling (the kind of stuff you see David Bowie’s character doing in Labyrinth), but it’s just too SCA-nerdy for me these days. Card shuffling is out for the almost same reason; I no longer want to look like a David Mamet Grift Cadet (when a teenager, I thought I looked incredibly cool spinning a quarter over my knuckles. Oh, who am I kidding, that was just last year.) I asked for the big book of knots for my birthday, imagining that I could spend my time churning out monkey-fist keychains of tarred twine, which I could sell on Etsy (oh, hey look!) . Clearly, I was now grasping at tarred straws. Plus, knot-tying turned out to be worse than knitting; some of those knots involve pinning twenty-five strands of rope to a board as you move forward carefully, and then you realize OH GOD I’M MAKING A MACRAME OWL.

So then, remembering an incredibly awesome First City Troop footstool that my grandmother made, I decided to try needlepoint. Here’s my first attempt, which is almost finished! It’s a rudimentary picture of Tikaro, the stuffed pig made by my aunt Sylvia:

Tikaro needlepoint

It now needs to be stretched back to a square shape, but I’m pretty happy with it. I like how needlepoint is a lot like pixel art, and I like how you’re using natural materials — wool yarn, cotton canvas, starch, and masking tape — and I like how in some ways it’s exactly opposite to computer work. Want to fill an area with color? No “command-A, Edit > Fill, preserve transparency”. Nope, it’s three evenings of basketweave stitch, and each little session is either tighter or looser depending on how you were feeling that night.

I paid lip service to not needing to be Traditionally Male, but anyone whose first project is a kind-of fake heraldic shield is right in the middle of the Venn intersection containing both Male and Nerd. And SCA. Oh, well, next one will be a fuzzy kitten with a ball of yarn. Or a screaming eagle. One of those.

* This is a trick question.

Needed: a companionable, quiet, stench-free hobby.

“Aha!” said Poirot. “His tongue, it is purest cadmium blue!”

Every morning, I walk from 31st street and 8th avenue to 26th street and Park Avenue South. This is almost the same trip my dad took when he lived in Mount Airy, and commuted daily from the North Philadelphia train station to 23rd street, just west of the Flatiron building.

I have my choice of going mostly east and walking through the north end of the fashion district, which in the morning is full of shuttered doors and orange “this premises closed for copyright violation” notices. Or I can go a few blocks south, then east and walk through the flower district. In the flower district, the sidewalks are choked to a narrow path lined with stacked boxes of moss and wheatgrass and waxy cardboard containers of exotic stems just off the airplane, getting trimmed with razors and placed into store windows.

If I go a little further south on eighth before turning, I can walk past the sex-shop district bordering the Fashion Institute of Technology, and I can entertain myself separating the sex-workers just ending their shifts (baggy sweatshirts, ripped fishnet stockings, newsboy caps, jewel-y cellphone, cigarette) from FIT students just beginning their day of classes (tight tank tops, ripped fishnet stockings, newsboy caps, portfolio case, cigarette)

Any further than that, and it’s Chelsea, and I can see the fellows going to and from the small, private gyms set in brownstone fronts. These guys look like they were constructed out of spring steel; you can hear their joints operating smoothly as they walk. And all the ads plastered on the wall are for yoga classes. The trees are surrounded with flowers, and dogs are carefully curbed. BO-ring.

My favorite walk lately has been down 29th street, because I can walk past Blade Fencing, which looks for all the world like what Ollivander’s wand shop would actually look like if it were in NYC: dim light, concrete floor, fifteen-foot-tall steel shelves and lots of bizarre and interesting stuff — carefully made in exotic parts of the world — precisely stacked all the way to the ceiling. While cleaning the basement last week, I re-discovered my fencing mask that I got at Blade, which made me nostalgic for when I took lessons.

But mostly my favorite is one store window on 29th street, which has a rack full of little jars that totally makes me stop in my tracks every time. Here’s a cameraphone picture through the front window:
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A small sign says that it’s Kremer Pigments. I assume that it’s where you go when you are mixing your own paint(?) or dye(?), or are generally an utter badass when it comes to color. I am not an utter badass when it comes to color, but I have been repeatedly frustrated by the limitations of gamut. (“Gamut” is the range of colors that it’s actually possible to create on a printed page, using commercially-available ink. Monitor gamut is wider than print gamut, but it’s still very easy to make an eye-popping green in Photoshop that won’t survive conversion to a JPEG.) The oranges and blues in the bottles look magical and pure and visceral. It makes me want to lick the window.

I’m sure that most of those pigments are made of incredibly toxic minerals, so that would probably result in a very swift, unpleasant death.

“Aha!” said Poirot. “His tongue, it is purest cadmium blue!”