Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Hello Autumn!

Autumn must be my favourite season, because I haven't skipped a single year since starting these Hello seasonal blog posts, and I think I've forgotten about at least one of all the other seasons! I love the cooler, rainy weather that the season heralds, the hazy sunlight and occasional thunderstorm. So many of my favourite activities are best done in cooler weather, so I'm going to take a look at some of them today.

In the middle of Summer it's too hot to do most kinds of craft -- holding wool and having it on your lap isn't the most pleasant experience, and trying on self-sewn clothes can be a sticky experience. Right now though, my urge to do craft has returned in the biggest way. I've started several new projects, and even taught myself the new-to-me craft of tablet weaving, which I wrote about in my last post. Here's a sneak peek of another project I started recently:

snuggly things
Speaking of scarves, getting to wear them is heavenly, too. One of the best things about cooler weather is that I get to wear layers -- cardigans, scarves and closed shoes with socks. Maybe even legwarmers if it's cold enough! I have a large collection of all of these things and am always working on making more, so it's nice to get to wear them. I really like the way a scarf looks and feels in particular. P.S. I've been practicing my photography and modelling lately.

As soon as it's cool enough to put the oven on, I feel like baking, whether it's biscuits, cakes, fruit or vegetables loaves or buns. Husband can whip up a cake without following a recipe (a gluten-free one, too!) which is an enviable skill to have, in my book. We stopped eating bread late last year, so baked products are a bit more special than they used to be. I had a craving for vegemite scrolls, so I baked these last week:

Nothing goes better with the baked goodies I mentioned above than a nice cup of tea. I'll drink any kind of tea, but my favourites lately are a fruity flavoured black tea, and herbals like peppermint. I like to re-organise my tea cupboard and refresh my inventory this time of year, so I'm looking forward to doing that soon.

I'm not a big one for following the Sabbats, but this time of year my mind always turns to the more esoteric and spiritual matters. As the days grow shorter and the light dimmer, now feels the time to turn inwards. I feel like building altars and lighting candles. Plus, I want to finally experience the other joys of the season as everyone in the Northern Hemisphere got to do six months ago.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

I Learned Tablet Weaving!

Tablet weaving is a very old craft. It's been known since the Middle Ages, and it's thought to have been around since the Iron Age. That's nearly three thousand years ago! It was a favourite craft of the Vikings, and was quite common throughout Europe, Northern Africa and Western Asia. This great (and short) video shows a demonstration of a traditional pattern being woven at an Iron Age reconstruction farm in Norway.

But what is tablet weaving? It's a form of weaving that uses tablets or cards to weave a narrow band. The finished work is usually used for belts, straps, or decorative edgings for garments. The cards allow for coloured patterns to be created relatively easily, in just about any number of colours. Here's one of the finer examples I've seen; it's a set of bookmarks showing some of the different patterns achievable using the same set-up:

Picture source.

I've known about tablet weaving for years, but when I first saw pictures of the process, it seemed so complicated and intimidating that my brain shut down straight away. I never even gave it a second thought. Then a couple of weeks ago, Youtube recommended a video to me at random, and the comments underneath complimented it as the clearest and easiest-to-understand video on tablet weaving that they'd ever seen, so I thought, there's no harm in watching it. Here's the link. And actually, they were right! The video isn't even in English, and I got it straight away. I was so excited that I thought, I have to try this!

I got out my old embroidery frame and ripped off the sad, stained cross stitch piece that had been on it since I was a teenager, and converted it into a weaving loom. I found some wool in vaguely old-timey colours and went for it!

So, are you ready to see my janky first piece? Here it is!:

Hoo boy, is it janky! But I learned a lot from making this piece. I mean, A LOT. Firstly, don't use acrylic wool! It's too stretchy and fuzzy. You need a yarn that's smooth and shows up the pattern crisply. Also, I must have threaded the cards wrong because it was supposed to be a diamond pattern, not a weird wave and dot pattern. So be extra careful on which colours to put in which holes in the beginning. Also, you need to pull quite tight or it ends up rather cushy. Which is good for something like a blanket or a cushion, but not a bag strap or a belt.

But you know what? I'm really proud of it! It's been probably twenty years since I made something this crap and been so proud of it, not since I was a kid. It was actually quite a good feeling.

This guide was also incredibly useful to get me started. It has some simple patterns, and also diagrams which show how the mechanics of tablet weaving work very clearly. My second one was a bit better:

I started to experiment more with things like different patterns (chequerboard vs stripe), flipping the cards so the stitches slant one way or the other, and added a nice plaited loop to each end. I read somewhere that there has yet to be an example found of a historical tablet-woven piece in which the pattern was consistent throughout the entire length (at least, in the earlier period before it became institutionalised). That is, the maker changed up the pattern as they went along, usually several times. So that made me feel a lot better about experimenting! Here's a close-up:

I also learned that handedness is a thing. Yes, left handers are discriminated against even in weaving! (Sort of.) Basically it means that the cards have to be facing the way (i.e. left or right) that the designer specifies when you're setting the piece up. Which is almost always to the right, of course. In fact, most designers don't even bother to specify it because it's so common. If the cards aren't facing the correct way, the pattern appears underneath, and you're seeing the 'back' of the band as it's facing you. It's not the end of the world, but I have to keep flipping the loom over to check that the pattern is going well. (And to admire my handiwork, if I do say so myself.) I forgot about it for my third band, so again I'm having the same problem.

Here are some photos of it in progress, anyway. Firstly is cutting the threads and threading the cards according to the pattern. This is honestly the most complicated part and takes up a lot of the time in creating a band.

This photo shows the weaving project after I've started to get a good length going. I use the big pin to stop the cards from slipping backwards/forwards or just getting jumbled when I'm not working on the piece. For some reason I'm having a lot more problems with tension than the previous band, even though I set it up on the loom exactly the same.

Note it's slightly wider than the last one, and I added a third colour with a border on each side! Because of the handedness issue I mentioned before, you're seeing the back of the band in the above photo, so here's one with the loom flipped over so you can see the proper pattern:

And here's a close-up because it's just kind of cool. It's not perfect -- the edges are a bit untidy and sometimes there's a kind of double-long stitch where the direction of turning changes and I have no idea why -- but I like it!

I made my tablets out of thin cardboard (from a pasta box), but they don't last for too long unfortunately. They eventually get mashed up from all the handling. The first set was already ruined after only the second band. Yet you don't want to use thicker cardboard because it has to be smooth so the threads don't get caught when you turn them. It's a bit of a catch-22. I want to upgrade to wood once I'm able to order things from overseas again. Here's a good video on how to make your own tablets. I would recommend rounding off the corners -- you can use scissors or a corner punch.

The variety of patterns that can be made is almost endless -- abstract shapes, words, florals, and the typical Viking dragons. Apparently there are double-faced patterns where it's the same on each side so I wouldn't have to worry about handedness, but they're very complicated and I'm not ready for that yet. Perhaps one day!

Now I just have to figure out how to use all of these strips of weaving!

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Book Review: Road Seven

Please note: this book was provided for me to read and review by LibraryThing's Early Reviewer programme. You can rest assured however, that this is (as always) an honest review!

Brian is a loser -- a thirty-something failing Phd candidate with no girlfriend and an annoying flatmate. He's had debilitating headaches for years that he can't be bothered doing anything about, and is a disappointment to everyone in his life.

Mark Sandoval is an enigma. A best-selling author notorious for his conspiracy theory-laden output, he has mysterious glyphs scarred all over his body, supposedly given to him during an alien abduction.

When Sandoval hires Brian to travel with him to a far-flung corner of the world to investigate an alleged unicorn sighting, that's when things start to get interesting. The main action is set in Hvíldarland, a fictional country that's a lot like a miniature version of Iceland. The locals are tough and don't take kindly to strangers, and there's definitely something fishy going on. Not only is there an American military base hidden in the woods, but the area Sandoval wants to investigate is reputed to be an Álagablettur, a sacred place of power haunted by spirits.

Is the unicorn real? What's really going on at the military base? And can Brian and Sandoval go even one day without being beaten up?

I enjoyed Road Seven very much. It had a barbed wit reminiscent of Chuck Palahniuk and subject matter worthy of The X Files which made it intriguing and readable. I'm also fascinated by all things Icelandic at the moment, so knowing it was set within that culture made it even more interesting.

My only criticism is that it takes a long time to get to the action -- the protagonists only arrive in Hvíldarland about a third of the way into the book. Once it gets going though, I was completely absorbed in the story. At the end, some of the ends were tied up tight, and some were left hanging loose. Sometimes I find loose ends annoying, but in this book, I found that the right ones were handled in the right way.

Would I read more from this author? Definitely!

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

A Noob Reviews : Tang Garden (the Board Game)

Tang Garden is a "Eurostyle" game from ThunderGryph games, which was brought to life through Kickstarter. ("Euro" games are those in which players work together or simultaneously on their own part of the game, but don't directly compete.)

The Game:

Tang Garden is set in the Golden Age of China. The aim of the game is to build a beautiful Chinese style garden which appeals to the various characters in the game. Players take turns to build up the landscape and add decorations such as pavilions, bridges, trees, and flowers to the board.


The game board is plain -- to begin with! There are landscape tiles to lay down in several variations, namely greenery, water and rock. There are also various decorations, some of which are 3D, including pavilions, bridges, birds, flowers, and trees. Landscape panels are placed vertically in slots on each side of the board, with room for up to 5 on each side. 12 character figurines with corresponding character cards, a character board with blocks to collect, decoration cards, landscape tokens, character influence tokens and coin tokens are also included. This seems like a lot of stuff, but it all makes sense once you start playing the game.


Each turn, the player can choose to either build or decorate. Building involves placing a landscape tile on the board to expand the garden. These feature either greenery, water or rock, and the edges must match up to the adjacent tiles according to certain rules. This aspect of the gameplay is very similar to Carcassonne, if you've ever played that. On certain positions of the board, there are round landscape tokens. A player can collect a landscape token when placing a landscape tile on this spot, and then has the right to place a vertical landscape panel on the edge of the board.

Decorating involves adding a decoration to the board. It's probably best to wait until there are a good number of landscape tiles on the board before starting to decorate. The player picks up several decoration cards, chooses one to keep, then places a corresponding decoration onto the board. Points are awarded at the end of the game for each decoration, and bonus points for sets, and the decoration cards help to keep track of how many each player has placed.

After this, the player can choose to do an influencing action. This involves the characters in the game. Characters include the Emperor, Empress, Lady, Poet, Monk, etc. Each player starts out with one character and can collect up to three more during the game. The characters have their own attributes which can help or harm a player both during the game and at the end. For example, the Empress earns 6 coins for every pair of flower cards that the player collects. However, if she can see the Emperor or the Lady at the end of the game, the player loses 9 coins. (I'm sure there is an intriguing story behind this!) Three of the four characters that a player collects can be placed on the board, and the position and direction they are facing are very important. This is where the vertical landscape panels come into play. If the character is facing a landscape panel with a matching symbol (e.g. sunset, deer) they earn extra coins at the end.

To be able to acquire more characters, players must collect landscape blocks, which are earned through decoration cards, and then placed on the player board to keep track. Special lantern tokens are available to influence characters, such as allowing the player to change the way the character is facing.

Once the board is almost full (when there are three or less of the round landscape tokens left), the game ends and the coins are awarded. To some extent, you can prolong gameplay by avoiding placing tiles on a square with a landscape token on it, but eventually the game must end. The instructions guide you through the awarding of points in the form of coins. The player with the most coins at the end wins.


++ Everything about this game is visually stunning. The creator clearly put a lot of thought into the concept of an aesthetically pleasing garden, from the flowers and trees to the landscape panels around the edge which introduce the concept of skyline views.
++ The 3D aspects of the trees, pavilions, bridges and landscape panels added so much to the game. They helped to really bring the garden to life. The character figurines added to this as well.
++ All of the pieces were very high quality, made of thick card or wood, with beautiful colours.
++ The idea of building a garden is just a pleasing concept in itself to create a game around.


-- There are a lot of pieces and parallel things happening during gameplay which seems very daunting at first, but it was very quick to get the hang of.
-- The cardboard coins were a bit standard. They were nicely designed, but not outstanding. Husband is a bit of an aficionado when it comes to that kind of thing, so perhaps we're spoiled? He replaced them with some metal coin tokens from his collection. Similarly, the character figurines were just slightly too small for my average eyesight to appreciate properly, though having said that they were very detailed.

Final Comments:

Tang Garden is not only a beautiful game, but it has a lasting playability. It's complex enough to keep me interested, but not so much to be daunting. I can see myself coming back to it again and again.

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