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My "Minuet in G"

Regardless of what anyone says I think it's not bad for the SECOND ever time I've worked with gumpaste...


I can’t even remember how long it’s been that I’ve wanted to try doing the Seashell Crowns in sugar. I do know that I tried to get on the committee to review the designs for the newest Atlantian Crowns with the idea that I’d try to render those in sugar when they were initially presented. That attempt failed and once I saw the eventual design picked I quickly realized that it would be virtually impossible for me to ever do them. That’s probably when I centered my desire to make a convincing Atlantian Crown on the Seashell ones. Regardless I’ve been carrying the idea in the back of my head for YEARS and looking for the right time. One of the major factors was that sugar doesn’t play nicely with heat and humidity so it needed to be done in the winter.

Back in September (on the very day I started knitting the insanity of an entirely handknit Christmas), Tirzah and I talked to Her Majesty and let her know we were going to present the Crown at 12th Night. This may seem like a stupid idea but at the time it made sense. I was hoping to get some time with the real version with a measuring tape and camera. Sadly that never happened, in part because of the limited number of Royal Progress events I was going to be at. Her Majesty did offer to take measurements for me but that never happened either – such is life.

I have a good friend who is a blacksmith (Hi Drogo) and he had originally said that he could take the picture and work out measurements for all the elements but life got in the way for him as well so that never happened. He also thought he might know who made the crowns but it turned out that while he knows some of the most incredible artisans for making crowns and coronets the people he was thinking of didn’t work on those pieces. So all I had to go on was the pictures on the very excellent Crowns and Coronets of the Known World page. These pictures were taken at an event during Janos and Rachel’s time and posted to Webshots. While I eventually ended up loading webshots on my computer at home so I could have access to ALL the pictures, the first step was to put the one that I could actually get to load full size without webshots as the background picture on my desktop both at work and home. That way I could look at it online whenever I had a spare minute (obsess much? No not me!).

The scale on the pictures of the Crown that I had was established via the use of a quarter and the pictures were posted enlarged slightly. But my mind kept insisting that since I KNEW the print out of the picture was smaller than the actual crown measurements taken off the picture were smaller than reality. Which meant that my vision of the piece was both bigger and smaller than reality. So there’s the set up -

The problem was that I was in the midst of the craziness of a handmade Christmas (I made 1 baby hat, 2 full scarves, 2 adult hats, 6 coffee cozys, and 7 pairs of fingerless gloves plus fringing a shawl between Sept 17 and Christmas while continuing to work full time).

Prezzies 2010 002

While it was doable it wasn’t something that allowed for ANY practice time on the project. If I’d had a lick of sense I would have acknowledged that doing the Crown was a bad idea for this year. But I’d told the Queen…

The result of this is that my R&D period for the project was an awful lot like Professor Harold Hill’s “Think System” from The Music Man (hence the title of this LJ post). The situation was not improved by going out of town both Christmas weekend (to my parents) and New Year’s weekend (to a wedding). It was made even worse by the communication issues leading to an argument about the project between me and 2 of my friends (one of whom was my normal partner in crime for these things). The result of THAT was I was working completely alone on the project and stressed on top of everything else.

So on the evening of January 2nd I started the project by making the hard candy jewels. I had 2 different sizes of jeweled molds to try although neither one of them were the correct scale for the project. My original intention was to just scale the project up to an unrealistic size so I could use the better of the 2 molds (which would make the jewels roughly twice the size of the original). But I ended up deciding instead to use the square jewels which were closer in size and would allow me to only add a few inches to the estimated size of the crown.

Anyway – Sunday I made the jewels and then started working on the shells. I ended up tracing the picture of the shells onto a piece of paper, using the paper as a stencil to cut out the pieces and draping those pieces over a bowl to try to establish the curve at the top of the shells. I also freehanded cutting the base of the crown. At that point I figured I was done for the night as I needed to wait for the gumpaste to dry enough to go on to the next steps. I packed everything into a plastic box for the night using aluminum foil to cradle the shells.

Monday I stopped on the way home for some additional supplies – including going by a cake store where I found Silver Glaze instead of luster dust (which they were out of). Then I headed home and freehand cut down the size of the shells before I added the veins onto the shells. I also attempted to put the silver twist on the top of the crown. That didn’t work as well as I wanted it to (it probably would have been better with a 2nd set of hands) but I did the best I could at the time.

Tuesday was the night for putting everything together. First I created the swirls (the first thing LLT showed ANY positive attitude toward – up until that point she was negative or ambivalent toward everything I showed her). Then I painted the lapis – one coat of sky blue cake gel diluted with water then a spray of Wilton Air Brush blue. Next I added the amethysts to the crown base, then the swirls and finally the shells. I braced everything for the night with foil, sealed up the box and went to bed.

Wednesday morning I couldn’t sleep very well so I got up and looked at the project. To my alarm the amethysts had melted slightly! Bloody hell! But while they weren’t happy they were still intact and I didn’t have any more of the squares because I only had a few of those molds. The piece had dried enough that I took the foil out of the box, sealed it up and went to work. I also changed the lid of the box (which everything was sitting on) to one that was clean so I could tell if the sugar melted any more. When I got home that night I talked to Tirzah about the situation and she said that maybe the apartment had gotten too hot over night (she said she’d turned down the temp from about 68). I looked in the box and there was no more evidence of melting so I decided to continue on. Wednesday’s project was painting. According to the instructions the glaze required two coats of paint with at least half an hour between them. So I started painting and then took a break for dinner between coats. That was when LLT said “This really isn’t the best work we’ve ever done, are you sure you want to turn it in or make your excuses and try again in the future with the knowledge you’ve gained from this attempt?” I said I was going to give it to the head cook and let him make the decision. I finished the painting for the night and headed to bed.

Thursday morning, other than one of the shells sagging in a bad way the crown looked the way I’d left it on Wednesday night – no evidence of melting. Thursday night when I got home LLT was gone (she went down a day early) and Drogo & Oonagh were there (Yay!). We talked about things and all agreed that yes it wasn’t as good as it could be but it “didn’t suck”. Also – still no sign of candy melting despite the fact that anytime I wasn’t working on the project it was sealed in the box.

Friday morning we got up and before loading out I used more gumpaste to try and shore up the sagging shell. I figured since it needed to be braced for travel anyway I might as well try and patch it. I supported the entire thing in aluminum foil (hoping that the heat HAD been the issue) and packed extra gumpaste, my paints and paintbrushes. Oonagh was careful to pack the crown box in such a way that it wouldn’t shift and we were fairly confident that as long as the box didn’t turn over it wouldn’t suffer too much damage on transport. If the box DID flip we’d have bigger things to worry about since that would mean the truck flipped to. ;)

We left slightly after 8 and got to the hotel about 5:30 (ish?) After loading into the hotel and getting settled I opened the box to see how the piece survived. The base had completely broken in two places (one on either side of one of the shells) which I was confident I could fix and hide with more gumpaste and paint) but I saw that there was evidence of candy melt.

When I started looking at each of the amethysts I realized they were SEVERLY damaged – To the point that there were visable holes in places where there had been solid candy. One looked as if the color had drained out leaving a greyish sugar piece that gave way when I touched it.
At this point I had to admit defeat. While I had the extra jewels with me and the supplies to patch the crown there was no way I could pull the stones without causing irreparable damage to the entire piece. So when LLT went to dinner with the Kitchen Crew she told Robear that I’d had an attack of life and there would be no subltie.

I had someone urge me to try again for Kingdom A&S but I just don’t have it in me right at the moment. The project/weekend was expensive and money is tight enough that I need to take some time to recover and now that there is no deadline I want to go back and do the R&D that I originally intended to do. Drogo has once again offered his help with the sizing issues and I have emailed the Kingdom Historian to ask him if he has any information about the crowns in his files. I’ve also had someone suggest that I contact His Highness to see if he has any information about the original artist. (Drogo says that based on the pictures he thinks just about every technique in the typical jeweler’s arsenal was used to make them).

I have ideas on how I want to make the project better in the future – I’d like to figure out how use LLT’s airbrush so that I can airbrush the silver on. I want to work on my skill at painting the lapis to make them darker and more richly colored. I’m kicking around with the idea of creating an armature for the crowns but I need to figure out if I can do that and yet prevent them from getting too thick. Regardless Drogo, Oonagh and I have already figured out how to create a bracing system so I don’t have to use foil to support the finished piece during transport and drying times. Also next time I’m going to create supports to make sure the crown maintains an oval shape as opposed to the NOT oval shape this one turned out to be (at least it wasn’t round either). I also want to work out if I can get the shells thinner without having them sag since the scaling issues of the pictures meant I made them too thick. I’m also considering ways to make the shells part of the crown base as opposed to separate pieces.
All in all there’s plenty for me to do before I make another attempt. So it’s not going to be this winter. Maybe next year depending on where 12th night or KASF is.

In the meantime first up are experiments with the leftover supplies to see if I can figure out if it really was the combination of aluminum foil/gumpaste/hard candy causing the problem.

On the plus side? I amused the Queen when I explained what happened. Considering she was having a rough weekend (from what I understand she was sick all weekend) that was a big plus.

Edited: According to someone on the Sublties Yahoo Group it couldn’t have been the aluminum foil, but the fact that I hadn’t allowed the project proper drying time that caused the melting. I question this since there was no evidence of melt for TWO DAYS while the foil was absent (including one day after painting). So I think I will continue on with my experiment. I might be wrong, but at least I’m going to test the theory. There was also a question about the possibility that the foil had been moist – I pulled it directly off the roll and put it directly into the box so any moisture would have had to been pretty much minimal and invisible. On the other hand I did add some liquid in the form of gumpaste glue on Friday morning so there is still a question...best to continue with my experiment plans just to satisfy my own curiosity.


Messages from SCA_Subtleties list.
How long did you let the shells dry? Shells were made Sunday night and not painted until Wednesday night – 3 days. Yes they probably should have dried longer.

How long did you let the base of the crown dry? – Same answer as above

Did the blue gel coloring give you any trouble? Even with the air-brushed blue over it was it still sticky? – The gel coloring didn’t seem to be sticky although the blue got all over my fingers because I used a mixture of water/gumpaste as a glue to attach the pieces together.

You might want to consider how to deep the inside of the crown looking smoother at the places where you had to add material for "joins". – This was originally slightly better but as I started having problems with the one crown sagging so much I added more gumpaste to the back – which now that I think of it was a source of additional moisture in the box.

Do you think there might have been any interaction between an incompletely-dry sugar crown and the candy jewels? I don’t think the original gumpaste caused the problem. However when I patched the one shell join that did add some moisture to the mix which might have contributed to the problem. I intend to do an experiment with the remaining gumpaste and jewels to see if I can figure things out.

Could you improve how the crown was packed for transport so as to try to avoid breakage? - This is already in the plans. Will report in the future when I figure it out and test the ideas.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Thanks for all the photos. So sorry the candies melted. I am sure that it was a major disappointment. I suspect humidity was the culprit.

Sugar paste or gum paste is temperamental depending upon the weather/humidity. I have tried to make certain sugar paste objects in a very humid week before an event and had to revise plans. This was several years ago and of course I now know about products like Edible Lacquer spray which Protects sugar arts against humidity exposure.
http://www.confectioneryarts.com/

[ Back in 2006 we talked about something called tylose which is used to make sugarpaste hold up in humid climates.
> > Nicholas Lodge (the author of all those cake decoration and icing books and the Food Network judge at times) talks about it on his website.

How humid was it? Might be worthwhile to find out and record that number.
Also Silica Gel packets might have helped. And perhaps taking the items to the event and attaching them there might have worked. Store in separate containers.

Hard candies like the jewels might also need to be boiled to a few degrees higher. That makes them stronger (harder I guess) and more able to withstand humidity.

Johnnae


Weather data thanks to http://www.wunderground.com
1/2/11 -

Temperature:
Mean Temperature 50 °F
Max Temperature 60 °F
Min Temperature 37 °F
Degree Days:
Heating Degree Days 16
Moisture:
Dew Point 39 °F
Average Humidity 65
Maximum Humidity 88
Minimum Humidity 31

1/3/11 –

Temperature:
Mean Temperature 34 °F
Max Temperature 41 °F
Min Temperature 28 °F
Degree Days:
Heating Degree Days 30
Moisture:
Dew Point 11 °F
Average Humidity 41
Maximum Humidity 69
Minimum Humidity 24

1/4/11


Temperature:
Mean Temperature 34 °F
Max Temperature 44 °F
Min Temperature 23 °F
Degree Days:
Heating Degree Days 32
Moisture:
Dew Point 20 °F
Average Humidity 65
Maximum Humidity 93
Minimum Humidity 34

1/5/11 –

Temperature:
Mean Temperature 34 °F
Max Temperature 42 °F
Min Temperature 26 °F
Degree Days:
Heating Degree Days 31
Moisture:
Dew Point 14 °F
Average Humidity 43
Maximum Humidity 80
Minimum Humidity 25

1/6/11 –

Temperature:
Mean Temperature 32 °F
Max Temperature 41 °F
Min Temperature 24 °F
Degree Days:
Heating Degree Days 32
Moisture:
Dew Point 18 °F
Average Humidity 60
Maximum Humidity 86
Minimum Humidity 26

1/7/11 –

Temperature:
Mean Temperature 32 °F
Max Temperature 35 °F
Min Temperature 28 °F
Degree Days:
Heating Degree Days 32
Moisture:
Dew Point 16 °F
Average Humidity 52
Maximum Humidity 87
Minimum Humidity 32

1/8/11 –

Temperature:
Mean Temperature 30 °F
Max Temperature 33 °F
Min Temperature 28 °F
Degree Days:
Heating Degree Days 34
Moisture:
Dew Point 15 °F
Average Humidity 53
Maximum Humidity 87
Minimum Humidity 28

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
landverhuizer
Jan. 11th, 2011 03:53 am (UTC)
if your curious...
trying to brainstorm for hard candy... all modern ingredients but it's what I can think of: isomalt and powdered corn syrup, these items come in handy where you want to make hard candy that can withstand humidity. I have yet to try the powdered corn syrup but have it on hand and plan on testing just how good this stuff is...
I have found all this quite informative! Always nice to know how sugar behaves in different environments

aluminmug
Jan. 11th, 2011 01:47 pm (UTC)
As the "Mom" I am sure those who know you will agree that you ALWAYS set high expectations for yourself and your time. The handmade gifts were done beautifully and everyone really appreciates them.

The "candy" weekend we were there was an extremely upsetting weekend for both you and LLT, put things even more behind schedule, and I am sure added to the stress level of the entire situation. Personally, I was very impressed with how the crown developed throughout the construction and turned out to be a good replica. Yes, there were issues with it, but now you have time to work them out for your next effort.

Hugs
albreda
Jan. 11th, 2011 03:23 pm (UTC)
Not ALL of your first attempts can be works of art. You tackled something VERY ambitious, and it came out kind of saggy. Big whoop - you still did it, and learned tons along the way.

In other words? Congratulations!!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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