Sunday 26 April 2015

Happy Weekend

This weekend has been so lazy, slow and relaxing.  Nothing planned, in fact I haven't left the house at all. Sometimes that is just blissful, pottering about enjoying home comforts :)
Yesterday I crocheted for hours and hours and hours and hours. And hours. Everyone else seemed happy doing their own thing so I just left them all to it and caught up on some TV I'd recorded and spent a happy hooky morning. And afternoon. And evening.

The postman obviously knew I was about to run out of Stylecraft Special DK Pomegranate at lunchtime and very kindly delived my wool order in the nick of time. I love how Wool Warehouse package their wool deliveries in these sort of organza bags, such a nice touch.

I know you're thinking I couldn't possibly need more wool, and really you are right. I usually buy acrylic as it's so affordable and practical, but I'd really like to use something more luxurious for some scarves come winter. Trouble is, I just can't justify buying a load all at once. So, to ease the pain, often when I buy a few balls of acrylic I sneak in a ball of delicious cashmerino. My favourite is the Baby Cashmere Merino Silk DK by Sublime. Oooooooh it is SO sublime, it's like stroking a cloud. I'm going for pastels with this collection as I can't get my head round vibrant and silky-soft together. I've a couple of balls of Rowan Pure Wool DK in there too but its quite scratchy by comparison. Cushion covers perhaps.

And while we're on the subject of wool, my lovely lovely crafty friend KC (she doesn't have a sunshine band though) has just come back from a fortnight in Tasmania. As you do. I missed her loads, she is my craft and coffee buddy, and a real shoulder for me to offload onto about stresses with Little Man. She works with children with special needs, a lot of them are autistic so she really understands. Plus our friendship goes way back about 15 years, as my husband and I used to work with her husband, and now all our children go to school together. Anyway, as I said she's just back from Tasmania. (She went with 2 old Uni friends of hers, and didn't take husband or children. Wow!) And bless her sweet sweet heart, she brought me back a present....... some wool of course! Oh my heart leapt with joy! Joy that I have SUCH a Dear Friend, joy that she thought of me at all, and joy that the present was wool. She knows me so well. It's some lovely Alpaca Wool from the Tasmanian Wool centre. Its colours are a really lovely earthy winter palette so I'll be saving it for some gloves or maybe a hat later in the year :)

KC also took loads of wonderful craft-related pictures on her trip, and if she has time, she'll do a guest post here on emerald cottage so she can share her photos with you all :)

Today everyone was quite happy to stay at home, and in the afternoon Little Miss did some baking, She made these biscuits all by herself, I only did the in and out of the oven part. I wasn't even in the kitchen when she was weighing, measuring, rubbing in and so on. Not bad for a 10 year old :) (There were a lot more biscuits but they didn't last long enough to photograph)....

Later we sat round the table doing some colouring. During the Easter holidays we had bought some bargain pound-shop-type-of-shop-felt-tips - £3 for 100 pens, and they're pretty good.  I was kind of expecting them to be a bit rubbish. Look at that range of colours ....

We've got a couple of these amazing colour-by-number books that we bought in Florida last year.  The girls stayed colouring for about an hour, but I was sat there another hour on my own. Very therapeutic :) I love the mosaic style appearance of the resulting picture. I'm brazenly showing off my picture here. The girls didn't finish theirs. No staying power, children these days.

Now. As you know I'm a crocheter, I can knit too, but I always find it slower, and less forgiving in terms of mistakes. But I've had a bit of a knitting itch lately that I need to scratch. I also have some sock yarn that I bought by accident (I know, I know) so I'm going to join in on a Sockalong (such a fab name) with WinwickMum Christine ( I had to dig out the bag of knitting needles that my Mum gave me last time I was back home.

My Mum was an amazing knitter but doesn't do it any more at all now really. I think she may have done a knitting needle cull before she gave me her bag, I'm sure she had way more than these. Look how oranised she is, keeping the packs. The wooden ones were magazine freebies in case you're wondering. So I set aside some sock knitting stuff so I'll be ready to start on May 3rd. I think that is sock yarn ? Is it ? Anyone ?? 

One last little job that I did today was button sorting. Gosh if colouring-in is therapeutic then I don't know how to describe button-sorting. Mesmerising ? Soporific ? I find it sooooo relaxing. What is that ? Why is fiddling around with teeny bits of flat plastic or wood sooooo satisfying? I'd found these little spice jars in the charity shop, they were just so cute, and seemed like a full set as there were 8 of them, so I had to buy them really. No really, I did. Thery didn't even smell that spicy. I already had a perfectly good set of random mustard/pickle/jam jars, but they Didn't Match Each Other. And we all know how I don't really do random. And yes, I also already had a perfectly good button tin that even has pictures of buttons on it for heavens sake. But look, I HAD to buy these jars. I mean they were for charity. Look ..... see ?

I hope you all had relaxing weekends too :)


Friday 24 April 2015

A Year in Books 2015 - March-April

Er, yes, you are absolutely right, I am several weeks in posting this .... but never mind :)

Let's just get on with the reviews shall we. In March my 3 planned reads were:
12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris, and Run or Die by Killian Jornet.

I started off with Kilian Jornet's Run or Die. I must admit I was a bit disappointed with this. I really enjoy reading tales of men and women who undertake extreme challenges - a great example of this being Cheryl Strayed, whose book "Wild" I read last month ( and really enjoyed. Sadly Run or Die wasn't as inspiring. Yes, Kilian has run a lot of extreme distance races, and for that I applaud him, but a writer he is not. The book was only mildly interesting, more like a series of race reviews, which were all a bit samey, and with occasional brief interludes about his childhood and how he became an extreme runner. The book meandered around, and so I think, for me, it just lacked direction. Sorry Kilian. Fair play to you for all the running though :)

Next up was "Definitely Dead", the 6th book in the Sookie Stakhouse series by Charlaine Harris. You'll know from my previous reviews that the Sookie Stackhouse books are kind of silly, fun, supernatural vampire frivolity. I've enjoyed all the books immensely, however with Definitely Dead I do have a mini grumble. In this book the author refers back to events which happened, chronologically, between the previous book, Dead as a Doornail, and this one. Events which were not included in either book. I spent ages flicking back, wondering if I'd missed a chapter, then I thought I had missed an entire book, and finally I turned to Mr Google who told me that the intervening events had been included in a short story that wasn't considered part of the series. What ???? Eh ????? To be fair it's possible that the short story was by a different publisher or something, and so couldn't be referenced in the main books, but, whatever the reason, it was bloomin' annoying. Luckily I found the short story "One Word Answer", again by asking Mr Google, and I was able to read it online, thereby filling in the gaps. Otherwise, Definitely Dead was as much silly, vampire, nonsene, fun as usual. I thoroughly enjoyed it :) Just don't say I didn't warn you about the extra story.

Finally, I read "12 Years a Slave" by Solomon Northup. I knew that a film had been made of this and I really wanted to read the book first. What I didn't realise was that the book was written in the mid 1800's and is the true memoirs of Solomon Northup's own experience. Knowing that now, I feel, well, stupid, to be honest. I had thought that the book was a work of fiction only based upon fact, and when I started reading it I really didn't like the olde-worlde language in which it's written. How completely ignorant do I feel now, realising that the language is reminiscent of a time gone by because it was written in a time gone by. Anyway, so now that I've got that sort of confession out of the way, I can talk about the book. What is there to say..... It's amazing in a terrible, awful way. Solomon Northup was born a free man, in New York state, but was essentially kidnapped as a young man, and sold into slavery. The desperate events that happened to Northup, and of course many many many others like him, are just unbelivevably cruel, harsh, unfair, merciless. There aren't words to describe the atrocities that slaves endured. I'm ashamed to say I've never taken the time to think about the real lives of slaves and how appallingly they were treated. I know that makes me sound like a modern day spoilt brat, I don't think I am, well not any more than the average person, but this book was a real eye-opener. Of course I've always thought, known, that slavery is just plain wrong, but I had no idea how bad things really were. Once I got used to the language and style of writing, I couldn't put this book down. I was so desperate for Platt (as Solomon was renamed) to escape from slavery and be re-united with his family. Having read the book I'm not sure that I want to see the film. It won't be a light-hearted movie, that's for sure. 12 Years a Slave is one of those books that I think everyone should read. It's very humbling and I'm thankful every day that I have the freedom that Solomon lacked for such a large part of his life, for no other reason than having different coloured skin.

In April (what's left of it!) I'm planning to read (and have indeed made an excellent start upon) The Ice Balloon by Alec Wilkinson. This is the story of S.A.Andree, the swedish explorer who, in the late 1800's, attempted to be the first man to fly a hot-air balloon over the North Pole. Slightly bonkers, right ?! Then of course there will be the 7th Sookie Stackhouse book, "All Together Dead", another supernatural romp I'm sure :) And finally my kindle choice for April is Lucy Diamond's "Sweet Temptation"; the front cover describes it as "a story of love, friendship, calories and cake", I'm hoping for a light-hearted easy read.

That's it for now, see you soon for April's reviews, erm, next week I suppose :)


Sunday 19 April 2015

Crochet cube

Crochet is brilliant, don't you think ? I find it such a relaxing hobby, playing with yarn of all varieties and colours of the rainbow, and I love the fact that crochet projects can be so diverse - from a tiny flower to a humungous blanket, from a simple washcloth to a complicated openwork shawl. In fact that pretty much sums up what I love about crochet - colour and diversity. And for me the diversity is best demonstrated by the use of crocheted squares.

On the subject of rainbow brights and square-ness, for a while now, on and off, I've been working on a fun project for our playroom. We have a two seater sofa in there, and with 3 Little People ...... well it doesn't take a genius to work out the problem. So I thought I'd make a little cubey stool type thingammybob for them to sit on, put their feet on, roll around the room, use for den-building, and so on. Inspiration struck at some point around Christmas and I decided to make it in the style of a Rubik's cube. (I used to LOVE my Rubik's cube, I could nearly solve it. All but the last 4 middle edge bits. Totally forgotten how now, but still it holds a fascination for me ....)

Anyway, I saved the cardboard from parcels that arrived, mostly by amazon, at Christmas time. And also from Very Important Wool Deliveries. I worked out that the width of three 4-round solid grannies crocheted together was about the right size for a Little Person to sit on, and then I made the right size of cardboard box out of bits of cardboard. With me so far ?

The box then had to be filled with something to make it stand up to the rigours of 3 ruffians. I decided to use layers of cardboard. Not sure if this was a good idea, it took Flipping Ages. Cutting cardboard is horrible, really hurts your hands, is blooming awkward and seems to take forever. But, forever later, I had a nice solid cardboard cube. Maybe not the easiest solution but it definitely works. 

For extra sturdiness I wrapped miles of packing tape round the whole thing.

Obviously each face of the cube needed 9 squares. And I wanted a solved Rubik's cube. No disorderly random chaos of mixed up pieces for me, thanks very much.)

9 of each of red, blue, green, yellow, orange and grey. The grey was instead of white which I thought would get pretty grubby pretty quickly. To be honest I always wished the Rubik's cube had had a purple face instead of white, that would have been much better balanced in terms of the colour wheel I think. Silly old Mr Rubik.

For each face I crocheted all the squares individually then joined them together using double crochet, in black, on the right sides. This gives a really nice definition to the indiviual squares.

I then used the same double crochet seam, again on the right sides, to join the faces together to make up the cube shape. 

Once 5 faces were joined together, I joined the last face on by one edge, then slipped the cover over the box - it fitted really well thank goodness! My measurements, amazingly, were right.

Finally I crocheted the last 3 edges with the cover in place (otherwise I wouldn't have had enough of a gap to get the cube in).

And ta-daaaa!! A Rubik's cube cubey thing :)

And there you go, a bit of rainbow coloured recycling crochet fun :)

Of course now they are arguing over who gets to sit on the Rubik's cube. Ho-hum.

Happy crocheting people :) 

This post is my submission to the Deramores Craft Blog Competition 2015. Deramores is the UK’s number one online retailer of knitting and crochet supplies. Visit for more details.

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Fused glass

We are still on Easter school holidays in our neck of the woods, and the hours of blissful crafting I'd envisaged appears to have morphed into hours of laundry, mess-tidying, food provision, and sibling-bickering-refereeing with the odd bit of swing-ball and kerplunk thrown in just to keep it exciting. Ah such is life as a Mum of 3!

Anyhoo. In the absence of anything finished to show you (plenty started, nothing completed as yet) I thought I'd share some of the photos I took when I attended a Fused Glass workshop back in February. 

I was given a voucher for the workshop for Christmas by my friend. "Thanks!" I said, "Brilliant!" I cried. And wondered what on earth fused glass was and how to do it. A few weeks later I phoned to book my session with Namrata of Montages ( Namrata said she'd send me some information via email, and I went off for a nosy on the interweb.

The bumpf about the workshop arrived by email as promised. I had to think about 3 designs - for a small coaster, a small dish, and a pendant - prior to the day itself. Now, I'd been on a stained glass thing a few years ago, rocked up with zero ideas and panicked for most of the session because my mind went blank. So I definitely wanted to be prepared this time. Namrata's email included a sheet to print off with templates for the 3 items. Each piece should only be straight lines and 3-4 colours each. I jumped on Pinterest and got looooooads of ideas.

For the coaster, and the dish, as a good hooker, I decided to go for - what else - a granny square effect. Basically a series of small squares. Nice straight edges. The pendant proved a bit harder but I kept coming back to a mini-beach scene I'd spotted on Pinterest, so I decided to go for something similar for my pendant.

On the day of the workshop I was really hoping that I wouldn't turn up and be billy-no-mates sitting in a group of others that all knew each other, but it was even better than I could have hoped - I arrived to find that one of the others was a lady (girl?) with whom I'd worked 18 years ago. She was there with her 15 year old twin daughters :) We felt very old. Long gone are the days of hitting the pub after work on a Friday......

Namrata gave us a run-down of what to do, and then let us loose with the glass and equipment.

To cut a piece of glass you first have to score it along a ruler with a scoring device.

Then you use a pair of snipper things and squeeze the glass where you scored it.

It just goes "snap" and breaks with a nice straight(ish) edge.

And so you go on, scoring and snapping, until you have enough pieces of roughly the correct size for your design.

If any edges need a bit of fine-tuning you use a small grinder. No photos of that though, its really hard to hold a piece of glass against a grinder whilst taking a photo of yourself doing it. At least its hard to do it without losing a fingertip. Don't worry, mine are all still intact.

You can add details onto the design with copper sheet, and can use a regular craft stamp, or just scissors, to cut the copper.

I decided to add a few hearts to my dish. The copper sheet has an adhesive side so you can position it on your design and it stays put.

I also wanted a little boat on my beach-scene pendant.

Cute, eh? I was quite pleased with that :)

Once you are happy with your design you go and lay it out on the kiln bed.

Most of the glass is what-you-get-is-what-you-see. So you fire green glass in the kiln, it comes out green. Blue comes out blue. And so on. There were a few exceptions which Namrata explained. Also the black piece in my beach scene is a powdery substance which, when fired, turns into a sort of bright blue bubbly effect. I'd decided to use that for the "sea" layer of my beach scene" 

Once your designs are laid out on the kiln, you lay a piece of glass, which Namrata had pre-cut for us, over the top. The basic idea is that when the pieces are fired in the kiln, the kiln heats up the glass enough to just go a bit blobby or gooey, so the individual pieces sort of blob together. The clear glass over the top just sort of blobs over the edges to give a nice clear and smooth cover to the whole piece. That's my admittedly non-technical explanation of how I think it works.

We all left our pieces with Namrata to be fired, and I popped along later in the week to pick up my finished items. 

The pendant didn't come out as well as I'd hoped. The blue I used for the sky came our purple. Ah. That was one of the exceptions then. The black powdery bit was darker than I hoped. I might have been a bit heavy handed with the powder, or maybe it looks dark next to the purple. Not sure. But despite it being slightly different to what I expected, I do still like it, its kind of sweet :)

To make the dish curve out like it does, I think Namrata must lift the dish piece (which starts off flat as shown earlier) and drape it upside-down over some kind of stand so it drapes down as it cools. Then when you turn it the right way up again it's dish-shaped. Does that make sense ?

I love my granny-coaster but my absolute favourite is the dish, its just so cute, I'm so happy with it :) 

You may be wondering how the pendant attaches onto a necklace ? Well during the firing process Namrata added a little silver attachment thingy to it through which a necklace or cord could be threaded, but I kind of tried to widen it to fit a cord thing I already had, but in trying to widen it, I, er, um, kind of broke it. Gah! Hubby has a soldering iron somewhere so I'm wondering if I can use that to fix it, otherwise it will just have be a decorative stone on my desk ....

I really enjoyed the workshop, I definitely want to do it again some time, and think I could go a bit more adventurous this time now that I know what to expect.

As well as running workshops, Namrata makes and sells a lot of her own work. Her pieces are truly stunning, and show how complex the design can be for a professional ..... check out her jewellery ....

.... and these next two pieces of wall-art are quite large, sort of dinner plate sized.

If you get the chance, I definitely recommend going on this sort of workshop, it was a really fun way to spend a morning, and with lovely (hopefully!) pieces to keep at the end :)


Friday 10 April 2015

Easter and Giveaway Winners

I bet you thought I'd given up blogging at the 1 year mark .... well of course not :) Sorry about a slightly longer absence than usual but we've been busy having a really marvellous Easter holidays, I mean really tippity top. It's been one of those holidays where we've found the perfect balance of going out .... staying in .... doing lots .... and relaxing ..... There really has been much to be thankful for.

.... sweetheart roses - sweet indeed

.... spring greenery from the garden

.... little chocolate eggs from my lovely hubby

.... fun day out at Basildon Park

.... doing their Easter quiz-trail 

... and admiring the beautiful blooms

.... enjoying first crochet in the garden this year

The weather has been fabulous here, I hope it's been as good wherever you are. We've really made the most of it with trips to the park, lots of time in the garden, Little Man and his friends have been out on their bikes and playing nerf-gun wars on the field, and the girls have been trampolining, playing hopscotch, making assault courses, skipping, ..... oh the list of outdoor pursuits goes on and on, its been so lovely to see them having all this wholesome fun :)

Just before Easter I had spotted these little chick beanbags on Pinterest. ( I decided to make a whole bunch so we could play beanbag games with them. And of course they had to be rainbow coloured.

I tell you, this is a fab stash-busting project. Each chick is just a rectangle, twice as long as it is wide, then you sew it up at a strange angle, add on some of those red wobbly bits on their heads (should they only be for roosters ??) and some beaks and ta-daaaah ..... little beanbag chickens .....

If you think they are looking rather menacing, you should have seen the first one I made with pointy eyes. Very Angry Birds.
In the absence of a suitable Easter bucket, we stuffed them all in a Halloween pail and took them outside for some beanbag fun.

The homemade beanbag tossy stand thingy was another Pinterest find. Got to love Pinterest, eh ?

Now. After all that jolliness, get our tissues ready for I have a sad little tale to tell you. Little Man and his friend were out on their bikes yesterday and found this little chap at the roadside. They very carfeully carried him home in one of their bike helmets (so proud of them both :) The doorbell rang. "We found a tortoise" they said. "A tortoise?" I said. "Er.....". And so we phoned the vet. And took the tortoise, in a shoebox balanced very carefully on Little Man's lap in the car, to said vet - me, my 3 Little Peeps plus Little Man's friend. Quite an expedition. And so the vet took a look at the tortoise. Which turned out to be a turtle.

"He's very poorly...." said the vet "... very skinny and dehydrated..." he continued. Turns out he is a type of Asian Box Turtle. Aquatic, not native to the UK, difficult to look after, and of high monetry value. Often used for breeding, illegally. And really not in great shape at all. The vet said he would monitor it overnight and call us today with an update. In the meantime we called at a few houses to see if anyone had an escapee turtle (how does that even happen) but in reality I was rather hoping we wouldn't find anyone as I have a suspicion that the poor little turtle was, at best, not being looked after properly, and at worst, had been abandoned.
So the vet called this morning, poor little turtle didn't do well overnight, isn't feeding himself so needs tube-feeding which would need an anaesthetic which would add more stress and trauma....... aaaah bless him :( Vet is going to monitor again tonight but between us we agreed it would be best, if there's no improvement overnight, to put him to sleep :( We, hubby and I, considered giving poor little turtle a home, but we don't think we'd be able to care for him properly. Poor little turtle :(

Phew. Sorry. Bit of a sad ending there. I am supremely proud of my boy and his friend so being so caring, they were so worried and so gentle with poor little turtle.

And onto brighter things. Little Miss helped me to pick the Blog Birthday Giveaway Winners :) 

We wrote out the names, folded them up and plonked them in my button tin. If you're wondering where the buttons are, they are now in jars and sorted according to colour (wee bit OCD ??).

And the lucky winners are ..... Niki Murray - hurray!!! And HouseWithHearts - yippee!!!
I'll be in touch tomorrow ladies to get your contact details :) And then you can await an exciting parcel in the post :)

Enjoy the rest of your Easter hols people - mwah!