Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Cosplay by McCall's Abigail & Hat Madders


Women's Fantasy Costumes

Another pair of patterns are emerging on Cosplay by McCall's website - unfortunately the website is currently down (?) but you can see them in all their glory once it's fully operational again. For now you'll have to settle for a sneek peak.



Abigail
Misses' Dress
M2089

This is another pattern designed in partnership with Anachronism in Action. It features a fully lined vest and decorative trim on the seam lines and skirt. The package also comes with instructions and pattern pieces for a petticoat and a bum roll (don't laugh! that's the correct terminology, it's like a bustle but smaller and looks like a sausage wrapped around your waist), it also provides tips on underlining which is often a technique used in formal wear to add structure to a garment and stabilize fussy materials. I can only read this through the eyes of a non-conformist who doesn't have cable - I can't speak to it's popular culture origins, instead I can interpret it solely as a costume. It's nice. I like the vest, the gussets are a cool touch. I wish I could see the back of it or the sketch diagram to see what details I'm missing out on as it's difficult to critique it without the nitty gritty details. The fit looks acceptable and the construction is good. Overall, it's a pretty feminine ensemble and I could see this popping up at Renaissance fairs across the country.


Hat Madders
Costume Accessories
M2093

This is difficult to do a cold read on. The description I am provided with: "Pattern includes a unique Top and Bow Tie for any fractured fairy tale or mashup you construct. Also included is a headdress for your inner unicorn and a choker and cuffs to complete any steampunk or fantasy cosplay." We're only seeing half of this pattern by the sounds of it, I'd like to know what the headdress, choker and cuffs might look like but for now all we can go off of is the bow tie and hat on the cover of the envelope. The bow tie is...what can I say? It's a bow tie. It doesn't fail to convey it's bow-y-ness. The hat. looks. busted. I am not a fan of exposed cage anything, I know that it's been a popular trend among Steampunk enthusiasts and has appeared in many specialty alt shops as a skirt with bustle. I just view it as awkward and an inconvenience, and in this case rather unfinished. The whole thing looks unfinished. Surely Ichigo Black has done better than this before but this is...not her shining moment. The brim is buckling and flopping in a weird way, likely due to the selected materials. The skeletal framework of the crown is relatively well executed but it fails to impress me as it looks like a tomato cage perched atop the models head, swaddled by a scrap of duponi, or maybe it's taffeta? Regardless, the hat band is busted. And the name of this pattern? It's as though McCall's themselves weren't even taking it seriously. This is a missed opportunity. Folks, creativity madders, and I have seen many a comment on the Cosplay by McCall's blog begging for armor and fantasy style accessories. I can only hope the other half of the accessories contained in this pattern make up for the shoddy hat design, we'll give them the benefit of the doubt for now. 

UPDATE!



The headdress, choker and cuffs seen here are way nicer than the Mad Hatter cage hat, I'm not sure why they didn't make it on to the cover. You can also see in the photo above that the hat continues to look less than ideal from more than one angle. I just don't understand why the hatter accessories took center stage, I'd much rather see the unicorn. Maybe it's because it doesn't require as much sewing?? The unicorn accessories are nothing ground breaking, just some super embellished cuffs and a headband, but they look good and I can see Lolita fans wearing them.

Conclusion

I'm underwhelmed by the accessories pattern but only being able to see 50% of the contents makes this review unfairly skewed. That being said, I can't see any one buying the pattern for the bow tie alone! I know that it's a part of the branding to have a big glossy high fashion promo photo on the cover of each envelope, but when it comes to multiple looks or styles (in this case accessories) it could be beneficial to feature all of them on the cover, perhaps using two or more models interacting with each other so that all options can be viewed (the way it was done on the patterns Shapeshifter and Laced). I just feel like if I were presented with this picture in a catalog I'd skim right past it, expecting that the hat and bow tie is all that's inside the pattern.

I'm always curious to see the future of Cosplay by McCall's and I'd like to see more prop building and armor crafting in the works, but perhaps they didn't have as much success with their initial attempt, Flight.

What are your thoughts? If any of you are cosplayers, what would you like to see?


Best,


Monday, 10 April 2017

My Diet Adventure Part 1


Adjusting to a Healthy Diet

As some of you may recall, I had seen a gastroenteroligst for some time concerning my digestive troubles. I have yet to receive an official diagnosis, we'll be discussing some results next week, but I was given the go ahead to return to my gluten free diet. I'm ecstatic! I think this is the best choice for my overall health, especially with this new diagnosis of active EBV. Today I want to share a handful of products that I use to get by on the gluten free diet.

Now these products are probably not all 100% FODMAP diet friendly. I recently switched to the FODMAP diet at the request of my Gastroenterologist. According to Wikipeida, FODMAPS are short chain carbohydrates contained in food that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. The FODMAP diet is a diet that consists of foods that are low in fructans, fructose, lactose and polyols (whatever that means). I don't trouble myself with the scientific details. The FODMAP diet is largely a gluten and dairy free diet. You can see the difference in the high offenders food table and the low offenders food table. The idea is that on the FODMAP diet you will limit your intake of high offending FODMAP foods opting for low FODMAP foods instead. People with IBS use the FODMAP diet to control their condition.

Yes, the FODMAP diet is by far one of the most overwhelming and confusing diets out there. The fact that you can apparently eat cheese but shouldn't drink milk? Confusing! I'm sure it all has to do with how things are processed and what they contain but it's not easy to understand if you're not already a dietitian. I've made the personal decision to go off of dairy and gluten altogether, with the tiny exception of butter. I've never had issues with butter but milk and cheese tend to make me feel rather bloated. I also stay away from most meats and would describe my diet as being more like a pescatarian. 

I should note that with these dietary changes I am taking supplements, like calicum, to make up for the lack of nutritional quantities in my food. I have to find new ways of getting protein since I rarely eat meat as a primary meal component. It's a struggle but I'm learning to adapt.

Food Substitutes & Alternatives

One of the things that I've learned on a gluten free and dairy free diet is that you will almost never find substitutes for your favorites (unless you're really lucky). I found a tofu based dairy free substitute cheese which tasted okay when melted but nothing like the real deal. It was more like mayonnaise! Likewise, I've tried the vegetarian mock foods, like burgers or chicken nuggets, and they all taste like the smell of cat food! They're also technically not allowed on the FODMAP diet because they contain certain offenders (like onion). 

After much searching and experimentation I have found a few gluten/dairy free substitutes that are now cherished favorites and some have become dietary staples for me. Let's take a look! 


When I need cookies I buy the ones from Ottawa's Strawberry Blonde Bakery. They are available at some Farmboy locations. The chocolate chip mint cookies are just like GIRL GUIDE COOKIES!!! They are, legit, better when frozen! They also make some pretty bitchin' ginger spice cookies and I'm pretty sure I had their carrot cake once too. These are delicious. They probably contain some kind of FODMAP offender, surely the chocolate contains milk(?), but overall I don't find they irritate my stummy so they meet my approval. If you've gone gluten free, give this brand a try!

When I need ice cream I buy So Delicious Cashew Salted Caramel Cluster - OMFG!! Certified vegan, dairy free and gluten free, how does it taste so fucking good?! I've experimented with plenty of frozen dairy free/gluten free ice creams and this one blows everything out of the water. I've tired their cookie dough which was also pretty good, it uses a coconut base. I prefer the cashew base because the texture is more like real ice cream, something that's practically unheard of when it comes to ice cream substitutes. I definitely recommend this product!



When I need pasta I buy Barilla gluten free pasta. It has a distinct corn flavor and the texture holds up really well. I like that when you use it in soups the corn flavor comes out, which truly enhances my made-from-scratch chunky vegetable soup. Pasta was one of my go to dishes for months when I switched to gluten free, it's easy to make and my ultimate comfort food. As a little girl I swooned for spaghetti and meatballs! The only downside is that it's expensive but if you're only feeding yourself or sharing with a spouse it's not so bad (hubby loves this stuff). I recommend the penne over other kinds of pasta because it bulks up considerably once cooked, so you get more bang for your buck. It's also important to mention that gluten free pasta can make you constipated, so if that's an issue for you make sure you're taking a fiber supplement to counteract it. 


When I need bread I buy All But Gluten products! I adore their bread and they make hands down the best lemon poppy seed loaf ever. I even used it for my birthday cake! I love it. They've got a good handle on texture. I recommend their raisin bread, it's quite lovely toasted with butter (If you can still have it) or spiced peach jam. I haven't had access to their other products but I hope they emerge in time; you can find them at Metro and I think the Superstore carries it as well. Another decent alternative when I can't get All But Gluten is Udi's Gluten Free products. I like their baguettes and my husband enjoys their wraps. You have to toast them just right otherwise they're a bit gummy and tough to chew on, but they're not as revolting as some bread substitutes.



When I need milk I buy Silk products. I used to purchase Earth's Own but I have since learned that Silk is the superior brand as far as taste and texture is concerned. I buy their almond milk and coconut milk. I'm sure some of you might be put off by either of these milks but they're really quite nice once you get accustomed to the texture - yes, milk has texture! Almond will seem considerably runnier than normal milk and coconut will come across as thicker. I use coconut in my smoothies and baking recipes because it has a higher fat content. I use almond milk for my cereal or just for drinking, the vanilla almond milk is almost like a dessert drink which is great for treating yourself. They make specially formulated coffee substitutes as well, I don't recommend using their straight Almond or Coconut milk in coffee or tea because it separates and tastes sour, buy the coffee version instead!


When I want chips I buy Que Pasa Tortilla Chips. These are organic corn chips that are certified gluten free! You'd be surprised at the number of brands that will add wheat to their products as a binder or flavor enhancer. I was happy to find this brand. They're tougher than other non GF brands, like Tostitos, but they're great with salsa and they hold up better as nachos (which my hubby loves).




When I want cereal I buy Kellogg's Gluten Free Brown Rice Krispies or Crispix. Crispix is not in fact certified gluten free, it has no mention on the box that it is but the nutritional information is void of any gluten ingredients - what gives? Unlike the Brown Rice Krispies, I'm under the impression that Crispix is made in a facility that uses gluten and therefore cannot commit to being entirely gluten free. So, if you're dangerously reactive to gluten I don't recommend it, but if like me it's more of a preference go for it. It is the better tasting cereal between the two. I have tried other gluten free brands and find they're too sugary and they go stale crazy fast, it's like eating saw dust, so I haven't found a non-Kellogg's alternative.


Conclusion

These are the best alternatives I've been able to come up with for many of my old favorites. It's nice to be able to buy something you thought you'd never be able to eat again. There are plenty of gluten/dairy free vegan brands that are always trying to come up with something new! Maybe one day we'll see a great alternative for cheese, who knows? For the items I haven't been able to substitute I replace. I don't like any of the box gluten free soups I've come across so I was forced to come up with my own from scratch. This is becoming the norm for me, my culinary skills are being put to the test. In the final installment of this diet adventure I'll share some recipes that I've come to rely on. 

Do you have any vegan, gluten free, dairy free products that you would recommend?

Best,

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Gothic Green Thumb: Growing a Goth Garden in Containers


Growing Flowers in Containers

What would apartment or condo dwellers do without potted plants? I have been successfully growing flowers in containers for a few years. Don't get me wrong, I'd love an in ground garden but right now that's not a possibility for me. There are times when an all container garden is better than an in ground one; the major benefit to a container garden is that it's easier to control the soil but the downside is that only certain flowers and plants will do well when grown in containers. Unlike a permanent in ground garden, you can move your containers around to change the look of your yard or deck. This is especially helpful if your plants haven't been getting enough sun, you can pick them up and move them into the sunlight.

 Here are some of my tips for gardening in containers:
  • Get a good potting soil. It usually has a mixture of soil, perlite or vermiculite, and peat moss. It's formulated to allow for proper drainage and nutrient retention. Not product plugging here but I use Miracle Grow Potting Soil or a mixture of it and an all purpose soil for my larger containers. I don't recommend all purpose on its own, it's too dense and lacks the qualities of a good potting soil. When I first started gardening I made the mistake of using purely all purpose soil and it compacted, killing my plants. Potting soil should have a light and fluffy texture to it. If you have something thick and sludgy it won't work well and likely won't drain properly. Also, I have to mention that knowing the PH levels in your soil is important for growing certain plants. If you want to grow a flower that requires more acidity you will have to look for a potting soil with that quality. There are often PH testing kits available but these are generally used for in ground gardens, with container gardening you have the benefit of purchasing soil that has the components/PH levels that you already need.
  • You don't have to use just annuals, I grow many perennials in my planters too.
  • Choose plants that can live together! Some plants are prone to choking others out. I once planted some morning glories in with my petunias. Big mistake! They choked the petunias to death. Likewise, petunias are prone to getting leggy; last year I had them in my planter box and they became horrid sprawled out things that killed off my pansies.
  • Similar to above, don't overdo it with your planting. Flowers need room to grow and the ones you buy at the garden center are often not at their full size. Each individual flower will have different spatial requirements and these can and do change when planted in containers. Sometimes the information will be present on the flower tag, other times you will have to look it up online.
  • Don't plant too little, either. My flower boxes looked way too skimpy a few years ago. I suggest using a filler, or what's called "groundcover", for the empty in between spaces. I might use something small and bushy like alyssum to go in with my pansies and snap dragons.
  • Some flowers will require shade where others need full sun, don't mix the two together. 
  • Don't assume that rain will give your plants enough water. Some people may believe this because they're planting in small pots and not great big gardens, but the truth is is that rainwater might not be sufficient enough. Unless you had a significant amount of rainfall, you should always check and make sure that your plants are watered enough. You also want to avoid over watering which will encourage root rot and kill the plant. All you need to do is stick your finger into the soil and if it's more than an inch dry you'll need to water your plant(s). If you find that your plants get dry too quickly they may have become root bound, this is when roots exceed the soil to root ratio and take over the pot, you would need to transplant the flower or flowers into a larger container.
  • Remember to fertilize; what kind of fertilizer and how much or often depends on the plant's individual needs.
  • If you purchase a larger container you don't need to fill it all with soil, you can insert floral foam into the bottom to reduce space (unless you need that extra space for roots for say maybe something like a small tree or shrub).

Photo from Dragonfly Garden Design & Build LTD

Selecting flowers for your garden

On your first visit to a garden center you'll likely be overwhelmed by the colorful array of flowers. You might be tempted to grab up as many "goth themed" flowers as possible but don't! If only planning your garden was that easy. As mentioned above there are different variables to factor in when choosing plants for your container garden. The most important thing is to understand the needs of each individual flower/plant. Consider the following:
  • What climate does it require? * Look for information about Plant Hardiness Zones, this is especially important when purchasing online. My government offers a full scale map that details what zone I'm living in and I use that as a guide for successfully choosing the appropriate flowers. I live in roughly a Zone 6 so anything above 7 is pushing my luck!
  • Does it thrive in full sun, partial, or shade?
  • How much space does it require?
  • How tall does it get?
  • Does it have any specific soil or care requirements?
  • Can it be planted with just about anything or does it do better with only specific plants?
Arm yourself with this knowledge and you can begin planning your container garden. Start by visiting your local garden centers. If you're lucky your garden center will group flowers by their sun requirements, full sun, partial or shade. I once visited a garden center that had created a condo friendly section where they carried potted flowers and shrubs, it was great! If your garden center isn't so organized you might want to ask a clerk for assistance. Compile a list of possible flowers and return home to research which ones can be planted together without issue, and which, if any, require special care.

Check out BHG's Plant Encyclopedia. I used this when I was trying to determine which annuals to look for and what would suit my gardening needs. The entries are very detailed and will often note what works well in containers. You can filter search results based on size, season and colour. The encyclopedia also offers detailed plans for creating cottage style gardens, gardens that could attract butterflies, red themed gardens and so much more. Have a look!

I hesitate to tell anyone to jump head first into gardening with colour as the primary focus. Colour is paramount but shape, smell and purpose can also be equally as significant within the garden. Consider height and space requirements first and foremost, then your zone, and then your colour scheme. If you want to prioritize using plants that are purposeful, like adding herbs or flowers that you can utilize, or you want to attract butterflies or birds to your garden, you might have to adjust your colour scheme accordingly. Amass a list of possible flowers and then you can choose which colours suit your taste.

Start a Book!

Notebooks may seem obsolete with today's technology but I personally find them to be quite beneficial provided that they're well organized. I try to keep my books divvied up; one for sewing notes, one for story notes, and one for housekeeping/gardening and all around home improvement notes. My home and garden book will contain information on perennials, annuals, herbs and soon to be deck measurements and planter building plans. I want to be able to pull this thing off the shelf and look up whatever I need to, like did I need a certain drill bit? Do these flowers go with those flowers? Who carried it for what price? Sure, I could record all of these details onto my phone but I find it's getting too cluttered with my writing and art inspiration notes! I don't need gardening notes all the time, it just takes up valuable phone space in my eyes, so why not fill my ordinarily skimpy looking bookshelf with books? It's sad to think that bookshelves will become obsolete someday...

So what will you put in your book? Whatever you like! But you can take some inspiration from mine. Try creating detailed entries about your favorite flowers. Ask questions like "in which seasons do they bloom? what soil type do they prefer? what are their uses or benefits?" You may choose to group flowers by colour or theme. Treat it like your own personal gardening encyclopedia! You can also use your book as a gardening journal to catalog your triumphs and failures and document gardening techniques that you found were most successful.



A few flowers to consider

(From top left to bottom right)
1. Ajuga
2. Black Pearl Ornamental Pepper
3. Plum Coleus
4. Halloween Pansies
5. Shadow Cat Dahlia
6. Black Petunias
7. Blackberry Heart Sweet Potato Vine
8. Tuberous Red Begonias
9. Joseph's Coat

What about roses?

You may know about the Black Baccara, the darkest and gothiest of roses. I would love to add it to my garden someday but not all roses are container friendly. Through my own stupidity I have purchased three climbing roses which are not meant to be grown in containers. As their title implies they are destined to climb and therefore should be planted in ground by a fence or arbor. Hence why we are forced to create a planter specifically for these roses. I think it's acceptable to start climbing roses in pots but they should make it into the ground by the following year. Now, I'm not saying that you can't grow roses in containers, it's just that many of the fancier varieties of rose will not be available to you. Miniature roses are usually the best choice. They're cheaper and easier to come across. Finding container friendly roses in your garden centers might not be easy. When I was shopping I saw few varieties. You may need to buy online. This site has a great list of roses that can be grown in containers, plus descriptions of the different colours.

Conclusion

The gardening experience can seem overwhelming but can also be a great deal of fun, don't be too intimated to try it. The great thing with container gardens is that you can start small and build your way up.

Best,


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