Friday, November 30, 2012

Working with Leather

Earlier in the year I braided a short-fork martingale for my saddle out of some heavy cord. It didn't hold up well and the other day when I hauled my saddle out of the back seat, I noticed the cord was frayed and breaking. I had some leather left over from making Dave's holster, so I sliced off a strip and played around with it for a bit, and then (using the hardware from my broken one) I put together this nice little piece.

I'm really pleased with how it turned out. It's sturdy but not heavy, and the leather isn't stiff at all. It will be a terrific addition to my set-up. I really enjoy making and repairing my own gear. Maybe I can make a few more to sell or give as gifts!

And in case you wonder where exactly the horse wears this item, here's a helpful picture.  See it there, between the breast collar and the reins? It helps smooth the action of the reins while I learn to keep quiet hands, and helps Imp keep his head in the right position so he can collect himself into a nice round, easygoing gait.

This is not my horse. It's just a pic I found on the internet.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

By request: the Steampunk Story, or "How Dave Came to Own That Thing in a Jar"

The story of the Thing in a Jar is written as a letter from an old (fictional) pen pal from Dave's childhood. It's a bit of an anachronism in that it's meant to convey the feeling and style of the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle, HG Wells, and HP Lovecraft, but Dave is only 43! It's the first thing I've written in this style, and I wouldn't put it in my "top ten", so to speak, but I think it's a good start. So, enjoy!

Hello, old friend.

I wonder if you still remember me. We stopped writing to each other a long time ago, and I’m not sure if a childhood pen pal is exactly the right person to entrust with these items, but really, you are my last hope. Allow me to explain.

I don’t have time here to cover in detail all the events that have happened since our last letters to each other-- prep school, Oxford, marriage to a lovely girl, and a career in scientific research that allowed me to travel to some of the darkest reaches of the globe. I have a story that you must hear and time is running out.

The reason I was in that underground cavern is hard to explain to a layman. More difficult still to explain are the horrible creatures I was looking for. You know that in the absence of the Sun’s light and fresh, wholesome air, organisms can ferment and grow, their shapes twisting and changing. That Darwin fellow calls it “evolution”, and maybe the term works with his little birds. But the hideous monstrosities that fester and feed underground in the dark are not evolved – the opposite, in fact! In my scientific circle, we call them “mutants”.

My team had discovered evidence in the area: signs of feeding and other activity. But when I proposed going into the cavern, the idea was met with resistance. ‘Some things better left alone’, and that sort of nonsense. I tell you, it makes one wonder what is happening to the British spine, to see those calling themselves “men of science” turn into absolute jellyfish when confronted with noises in the dark. With my satchel over my shoulder, my pistol at my side, and my lantern held aloft, I entered the cavern alone.
The pathway was twisting and maze-like. My capital sense of direction only just kept me from becoming hopelessly lost as I wended my way in.  It was a filthy mess, littered with scraps of bone and bits of detritus everywhere, and the stench was enough to turn even a Welshman’s stomach.

I could hear scrambling, scratching noises in the near distance as I progressed deeper. It seemed my quarry was aware of my approach, and was just keeping ahead of me. Well and good, I thought. This cavern has to end somewhere, and then I’ll have you and we’ll see what is what.

And I was right. Eventually I reached a point where I could go no farther. The space opened up into a sort of chamber, and there, huddled in the corner and hissing like a cat, was the creature I’d been pursuing. It was ugly beyond description, looking something like my neighbor’s pet bulldog choking on a lizard, with tentacle-like appendages. As I got closer to take a more careful scrutiny of its god-forsaken visage, it made a sudden leap at me. I drew my pistol and fired a shot directly into its brain, dropping it in its tracks.

Once I was sure that life’s intricate processes were no longer at work in the thing’s corpus, I opened my satchel, withdrawing my field surgeon’s kit. As I leant forward to take tissue and hair samples that I would later study at my lab, the creature gave a sudden writhe. I soon discovered that the wretch was a gravid female, perhaps only days from delivering her pestilent offspring. A few quick strokes of my scalpel opened her up, and I drew forth three little things. Ugly things. But scientifically beautiful things! They would be the treasures of my research! I carried them out of the cave in a cloth sack, back to my tent. There I tried as best I could to keep them alive, but despite my efforts they were very feeble by nightfall and dead by morning. It was a disappointment, for live subjects are always best, but these things do happen. I popped each into a specimen bottle, covered it in formaldehyde to prevent decay as much as possible, and packed them carefully into a case of wood shavings. I had them shipped home, where I would be able to make detailed examinations in the fullness of time.

Two months later I returned to England. The crate was waiting for me in my lab, along with an unholy stench.  Unpacking the crate, I discovered that one of the bottles had broken during shipment and the liquid had drained, allowing the contents to rot. Two were left, and they were perfect, floating serenely in their formaldehyde baths. 

A colleague, Quentin Watford, stepped in from the hallway to welcome me back. “Good to have you back with us, Pelham,” he said. “Maybe now you can explain the scintillating aroma exuding from that mysterious crate. Entire floor’s been leaving windows open for a month. Getting quite drafty, what?”

I excitedly showed him the two remaining specimens, setting them like matched bookends on my desk.

“Good Christ!” he gasped, leaning in for a closer look. “What on earth are those wretched things?”

I told him my tale as we carried the odiferous crate, its broken contents, and the soiled shavings down to the incinerator to be burnt. 

Watford was intrigued, declaring they would positively be the highlight of any scientific exhibition at which they were displayed.

Things get tricky now, old man, but stay with me.  When I returned to my desk, I had the distinct impression the things in their bottles were looking at me. It’s an odd but familiar enough sensation to anyone who has spent time with a bottled menagerie; something about all those dull eyes floating there in the clouded yellowish solution. I picked up one bottle and tapped my fingernail on the glass, smiling --and may the Devil take me if the creature didn’t blink.

It was alive! But how could it be? After two months in a sample jar, with no oxygen or other natural sustaining force – and I swear on my honor as one of the Queen’s loyal subjects that the thing had been stone cold dead when it was put in the jar.

Nervous reflexes, you say? After two months of soaking in formaldehyde? The solution should have stiffened the membranes beyond the twitches of mere residual electrical impulses, if indeed it were possible for those impulses to occur so long after death.
I called out for Watford.

When he arrived, I picked up the bottle to show him. I’m sure he thought I was completely mad, but when I tapped –-there it was again, that blink! -- his pipe dropped from his mouth.  With trembling hands, he took the jar from me, regarding the thing inside with even more curiosity than before.

“Pelham, this is utterly unique!” He cried. “How could it possibly be so? Returning to life from death is remarkable enough, but to do so in a sealed jar filled with a poisonous chemical preservative? And it’s been two months!” His eyes narrowed with suspicion. “All right – you got me. What’s the trick?”

I assured him there was no trick, that I was as astounded as he in every respect. I had called him in only to confirm what I had seen, to make sure my travel-wearied brain wasn’t playing tricks on me.

“You see what this can mean?” He said. “This little thing holds the secret of resurrection in its mutated form. Think of what we can learn from it! The future of medical science will never be the same!” He slumped, sitting on the edge of my desk and cradling the specimen jar.

He begged me to let him have one to study. He offered me money, quite a lot of it. There was a look in his eyes that concerned me, and I began to feel protective of the ugly little things. I had brought them into this world, after all, in a bloody sort of way. They were mine. Taking my specimen back from him, I made excuses and not-very-subtle-y pushed him out of my lab.

I put the creatures into a cabinet and locked it tight, then prepared to take my leave for the day. At the last moment, I decided to take one home so I could spend the weekend making some preliminary sketches and notes before beginning serious study of the two on Monday.

When I returned to my work the following week, I was met in the hallway by a sheepish-looking Watford.

“Don’t be cross, old fellow,” he began, “But I had some extra time on my hands over the weekend and wanted to take a better look at your latest acquisitions. I’ve made some notes we can discuss later this morning. Mind-boggling stuff, absolutely.”

I unlocked the door and surveyed my lab. The wretch had done far more than look, and that was certain – the place was an absolute shambles: papers and books scattered everywhere, chairs overturned, bottles of chemical tipped, with the contents leaking and dripping. And in the corner, the cabinet where I had so carefully stashed my specimen, with the lock broken open.

Furious, I turned on Watford. Of course he denied everything. He had only picked the lock, and had returned the creature to its place last night, he said. I made my way through the debris and turned back the cabinet door, now hanging on a single hinge.

The specimen was gone.

There was an inquest, inspectors and constables pawing and trammeling over and through my laboratory and study. Watford maintained his innocence and despite my protests, managed to keep his position at the facility. The specimen was never found.

A few months have passed since then. I have developed the habit of carrying the second specimen back and forth with me, to and from work.  I have no doubt that if I left it unattended for any length of time, Watford would have it in an instant. He no doubt managed to drop or contaminate the other, and tried to cover up his shenanigans with the appearance of a false break-in. This last surviving representative, with its astonishing viability, must be kept safe at all costs.

There is no one I can trust it to here; the small publicity brought on by the criminal investigation has made it a coveted object to my professional colleagues, all of whom seem desperate to open it up and cut it to bits to satisfy their indiscriminate curiosity. Unbelievable foolishness that they should want to kill it to see why it lives.

And so, I have instructed my solicitors to have it delivered to you in America upon my death, in the hopes that you will find it as astounding and worthy of protection and observation as I did. 

Ever your faithful friend,
T Pelham

Gone Steampunk; Back Later.

Originally, I was making these things as a Christmas present for Dave, but as I got more and more into the creative process, I realized that keeping it all a secret that long would be difficult. When I'm creating, I tend to bend my entire mind towards my goal, and I knew when I suddenly started checking out Steampunk movies, literature, and websites, Dave would be sure to notice. Also, I was almost certain to leave some bit or piece laying around accidentally, or even forget myself and start talking about it in a "what I did today" sort of way. I decided the only way to make sure it had its full impact was to give him the present earlier, for his birthday.

As I see it, every good Steampunker needs a few basic things: stylish clothing, a weapon, an invention, and a interesting talking point.

I thrifted hardcore for a week while Dave was out of town for a cigar convention, and got him a black pinstripe suit and a suitable tie.  Not particularly steam-y in itself, but a good base to build on, and besides, it was in his size and the price was right. I called this ensemble "Like A Sir".

But sometimes you want something a bit more casual, and for that, I got him "The Country Squire": striped trousers, a vest, and a cravat that I made myself from a bit of real silk.

Next was the weapon. Without realizing it, I chose a weapon that is so prevalent in Steampunk circles that it is considered a standard: the Nerf Maverick. I sanded off the labeling and gave it a coat of semi-gloss black spray paint, then touched up the barrel and highlights with Antique Gold Rub-n-Buff. This is my new favorite stuff. It's easy to use, gives good results, and cleans up without much fuss.  (I added more R-n-B after this pic was taken.)

And I banged out a holster for it using my incredibly basic leatherworking skills and a piece of saddle leather I got from the local tack shop for $15.

The invention took a lot of imagineering, to borrow a term from Disney. I decided that I wanted something clockwork with a specific function. I went to Seventh Sanctum and used one of their generators to come up with a name: the Deflecting Directing Mutant Manipulator. I call it the D2M2 for short. In my mind, it is a household item that can be used to either prevent mutants from approaching, or to coordinate the actions of any that do into something useful, say, doing the dishes or chopping wood. As you can see, it has a small end for single mutant control, or you can use the wide end to work with a larger group.

It's constructed from a lantern body, a hose coupler, and two candle holders form the base and the wide end. The handle is part of a curtain rod. Inside is the clockwork. There is a winding key (not shown) that doesn't actually wind, but looks good.  In this picture, I haven't applied the Rub-n-Buff yet.

No Steampunk outfit would be complete without the goggles. I got these at Harbor Freight Tools for five bucks. A bit of black spraypaint, touched with brown to "age" it a bit, and Rub-n-Buff for the accents, and ta-dah! A very cromulent pair of goggles.

Finally, the "talking point" -- a conversation starter, if you will. This is the bit that took the most thought, actually. I had to come up with a plausible reason for Dave to have such an item: where it came from, what it is, all that. So I wrote up a short story from the viewpoint of an old penpal from England who had grown up to become an eminent biologist. He found/captured this in his travels and (after a brief altercation with a covetous colleague) sent it to Dave in America, to keep it from the greedy clutches of his fellow scientists.

Here it is in it's pre-bottled state,

....and here it is after being properly preserved.

Whew! I'm tired after all this creating! I'm gonna go take a nap. Next time, I'll let you read the short story that went with all this. =)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

It's Thanksgiving in America...

...which means I pretty much have to write a post about being thankful for stuff. And I am; don't get me wrong. I have a lot of people, places, and things to be thankful for. But mostly today I am thankful for a garage where I can be creative. I am grateful for a husband who doesn't snoop when I tell him to stay out of that garage because I have super-secret things in there that he mustn't see until his birthday. And I am thankful that his birthday is in four days because I have a ton of photos and blogging to post here but I can't until after I give him his birthday present, which is super-secret and currently in its last stages in the garage.

And if you've been spending the last few weeks wishing I would post an update, then well, first you need to get a life (I mean really, sheesh!) and second, you can be thankful in four days when I'll be posting all sorts of wonderful stuff for y'all.

Until then, here's a picture of Thanksgiving at OUR house. Yep. Really!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

For fun!

If you haven't met Kate Beaton yet, you really should. Her cartoons are hilarious, especially the history ones. As you know, I'm a huge fan of the Bayeux Tapestry (or "B-Tap" as I'll call it from now on, because it's so hip!), so when I saw this on her site, I had to link it for you to enjoy as well.