Yarning with Mad Martha: Dumpling Cats

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Cheerio my dears! It’s been quite a while, hasn’t it, since we last sat down for a yarn so I am making up for that dearth of craft-related natter with a charming crochet book.  Dumpling Cats: Crochet and Collect Them All! by Sarah Sloyer is a book of amigurumi patterns based on that popular app and game, Neko Atsume, or Kitty Collector for the non Japanese-speakers.  We received a copy from Dover Publications via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Waffles is a relaxed feline who loves to read, and Cheeks just can’t get enough to eat. These fun-loving characters are just two of the 25 dumpling-shaped crochet cats in this whimsical collection. The cuddly crochet critters were inspired by the Pokémon™-like craze Neko Atsume, a game that enables you to attract cats to your backyard and “collect” them. Each little dumpling has a name and personality points that add up to big fun!

You don’t have to be an expert to crochet and collect these adorable kitties — the patterns are suitable for crocheters of all skill levels. Easy-to-follow instructions are accompanied by full-color photos and simple drawings. The directions explain every stage, from ears to tail, and some of the patterns include accessories and costume items. Plus, there are bonus patterns for a cat bed, food bowls, and more!

dumpling cats

As craft and pattern books go, this one is quite high spec.  The patterns are clearly set out with extra pictures showing how to assemble the pieces, which is always helpful for those who like to see things step by step.  Between the 25 kitty patterns are “bonus” patterns for accessories such as bowls and beds so crafters can provide a bit of comfort for their crocheted kitties.  I jumped in with the pattern for Dusty, who is pictured on the left of the cover, but since the mini-fleshlings prefer Pokemon at the moment, I modified the ears and tail to make an Eevee instead.

The beauty of this book is that it is perfect for beginner amigurumists, because the patterns are simple to follow and result in a small plush that can be created in only a few hours.  More importantly though, from an experienced crocheter’s perspective, the patterns are basic enough that they provide a variety of good base shapes that can be modified, if you have the skills, thereby opening up a whole range of creatures that could be made.  I’m already planning a Pikachu mod based on one of the plumper shapes.

Apart from the uses that I can see this having in terms of creating new spin-offs using these patterns, the book didn’t entirely work for me because I prefer working with larger sized plushies.  The small plushies produced here, that fit into the palm of your hand, aren’t as forgiving when it comes to little mistakes that can be made here and there while following the pattern.  Again though, the small sized pieces mean that a finished piece that looks pretty much like the picture is achievable for those new to the craft.

I can see myself coming back to this book to gain inspiration from the adorably squishy body shapes of the dumpling cats and I would definitely recommend it to beginners and more experienced amigurumists alike.

Yours in yarn,

Mad Martha

Attack of the 14 Nights of Halloween Giveaway – and some Creepy Crochet Monsters!

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I’m excited to be participating in the 14 Nights of Halloween Giveaway hosted by Laughing Vixen Lounge!  This is a different sort of hop from the usual ones in which I participate, so make sure you have a good gander at the information below before you enter.  There are two awesomely generous prize packs and locks of fun spooky activities to indulge in leading up to the big, scary night.  Enjoy!  Don’t forget to check out Mad Martha’s review (below) of Creepy Crawly Crochet by Megan Kreiner, which we received for review from the publisher via Netgalley.  It’s chock-full of delightfully detailed spine-chilling cuties to crochet before Halloween!

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting shorter, the air is getting cooler and the nights are getting spookier. Yes, it’s time for tricks and treats, goblins and ghouls, chills and thrills and huge amounts of sugary sweets. But at the Laughing Vixen Lounge blog it’s also time for the 5th annual Attack of the 14 Nights of Halloween Giveaway. Join Laughing Vixen Lounge and our bewitching co-hosts The Kids Did It, The Mommy Island, Herding Cats and Burning Soup, The Hopping Bloggers, Mama Smith’s Reviews and Women and Their Pretties for a spooktacular Halloween event.

Enter to win a $250 Prize Pack filled with goodies from 10 wickedly fabulous shops. All shops are offering Gift Cards or your choice of item(s) so there will be something for everyone. Many of the shops have items perfect for any book lover along with lots of unique, handcrafted and custom designs to choose from.

Visit the Laughing Vixen Lounge blog daily during the giveaway for the Halloween Movie Marathon. Test your movie knowledge with the Guess the Movie Game. Then try to solve the Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt, if you dare! Each event will get you daily entries in the giveaway plus a special giveaway for the Scavenger Hunt. Find full details for these events HERE.

Yarning with Mad Martha about…Creepy Crawly Crochet by Megan Kreiner

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Well my dears, I think we have a new Halloween favourite here on the Shelf!  If you are a fan of crochet (and we know there are more than a few of you!), you would have to look far and wide to find a collection of more detailed patterns for a selection of your favourite monsters.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

They’re creepy but they’re cute and cuddly, too! Inspired by classic literature, film, and folklore, these 17 crochet monsters will delight everyone with a taste for old-fashioned thrillers and modern tales of horror. Detailed instructions include assembly diagrams for ease of construction along with full-color photos. The patterns are suitable for beginners, but advanced crocheters will find them irresistible as well.

These fetching fiends include Boo Boo the Voodoo Doll; Jack, the Headless Horseman, and his horse, Nightmare; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Carl of the Dead and Daisy, his Zombie Dog; and other sinister characters. In addition to their value as handmade keepsake treasures, these characters also make great gifts for fans of horror and science fiction.

creepy-crawly-crochet

Alas, I haven’t found time to make any of these scary shelf-mates yet, but I am just itching to get cracking on the Zombie Dog pattern for starters.  This is a remarkably well thought out pattern book.  Since I’ve been blogging about craft books in my Yarning series, I’ve been able to get a handle on what makes a craft book actually usable and what doesn’t, and this book has a number of features that set it apart as a book that you will actually USE to create the finished product.  

The finished products here look like they’ve been made from patterns that have been thoroughly tested, with all the kinks ironed out.  While this may mean that, at first glance, you might think “I couldn’t make that!!”, the thoroughness with which the patterns and instructions are set out means you can be confident that you won’t be left flailing about trying to figure out what goes where and how to get from (Round) A to (Round) B.  Kreiner has used a whole range of unusual needlecraft techniques that add plenty of character to her..characters and the patterns include illustrated diagrams showing how to create the features on the characters’ faces and bodies, so that readers can authentically replicate the finished product, rather than just get an approximation.  

There is plenty of variety in terms of types of creepy critters, from the undead to the never-alive to creatures from literature and folklore.  I loved the chubby-bellied werewolf and Frankenstein’s monster, but the Zombie Dog was my absolute favourite of the lot.  I couldn’t go past his withered skin and bony ribcage and think he’d make a great little guardian for anyone who is looking for a quirky desk companion.

I have to say that I think most of the patterns in this book are more suited to experienced amigurumi crafters, due to the wide range of techniques required, as well as the fact that many of the patterns require more technique than just crocheting a couple of different body shapes and stitching them together.  The Headless Horseman uses magnets, for example, to allow his head to come on and off as the user pleases, and while these are enormously handy skills to learn, they may put beginner crafters off a little.  The up-side of this is that the end product will actually look professional and reflect the level of skill that went into making it, so if you are game to give these a try, you will have something to really show off at the end.

I would heartily recommend this to those experienced in the art of crocheting amigurumi plushies who like to dabble in the dark side…mwahahahahahaaaaa!

So what’s your favourite Halloweenish book or movie?  Tell us in the comments!

You can start by entering the Rafflecopter widget below. To experience all the games, movies, shop features, giveaway info and all around awesome fun make sure to stop by the Laughing Vixen Lounge blog HERE.

The giveaway runs October 18th – November 1st and is open worldwide to anyone 18+. 1 winner will win the Prize Pack and 1 winner will win the Scavenger Hunt Prize Pack. Laughing Vixen Lounge is responsible for all giveaway details. Click HERE for full details.

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Until next time,

Bruce (and Martha)

Yarning with Mad Martha about…Crochet Taxidermy!

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Tally-ho, fellow craft-lovers!  Today’s book is one for those who love crochet, animal parts and ironic home interior trends.  We received a copy of Crochet Taxidermy: 30 Quirky Animal Projects, From Mouse to Moose by Taylor Hart, with great excitement from the publisher via Netgalley.  Unfortunately, time got away from me and despite the best intentions I was unable to actually complete any of the projects in this compendium.  I have had a good old pore over it though and have formed some firm opinions, so here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Crochet Taxidermy puts a new twist on amigurumi, the popular Japanese method of creating considerably cute stuffed animals with oversized heads. In this delightful collection, heads of animals from farm and forest, sea and safari come to life with irresistible details like the drowsy eye (for the shy deer and sleepy octopus) and fuzzy yarn (for the skittery skunk’s stripe and lazy lion’s mane). Step-by-step instructions and adorable photos guide you through these 30 easy crochet patterns. Most require just one skein of yarn, so they’re affordable and quick to crochet!

crochet taxidermy

If you are a crafter with a basic understanding of amigurumi techniques – crocheting in the round, completing a magic circle, attaching limbs etc – this would be a fantastic pick for extending those skills in a way that allows for guilt-free construction of what are, essentially, plushies.  Being an avid maker of amigurumi, I know the internal conflict that arises from wanting desperately to make another cute little plushy, but feeling the guilt of not having an immediate purpose or recipient in mind for said toy.  Attaching the completed product to your wall is a perfect solution!

The book provides a diverse range of cute critters to display around the interior of your abode (or work cubicle!), with projects ranging from the quick and adorable mouse, chicken, owl and cuttlefish designs, to the more substantial moose, cow and hippo. Animals are divided into habitat categories, so if you have a particular decorating theme in mind, you can draw on a whole wall-full of inspiration.  Similarly, the patterns for related animals seem to use standard shapes, so once you have mastered one animal, completing others of its ilk should be a doddle.

I had two main issues of contention with this title though.  The first is that, as a more experienced amigurumi maker, the animals didn’t quite have the quirky facial character I was hoping for.  This is simply an issue of preference however, so I can’t really hold that against the designer.  The second issue however, which can be noticed upon close inspection of the completed photographs of the projects, is one that poked at the frayed nerves of the perfectionist in me.  One of the key features of amigurumi is the use of small, tightly woven stitches, but in the project photos the stuffing is clearly showing on a number of the animals, which means that the stitches are larger than they probably should be – or alternately, that the pieces are too tightly stuffed, stretching the fabric too widely.  This could be related to the fact that some of the projects are quite large and designed to be completed quickly, but it seemed like something that should have been ironed out before the final patterns were made up, to give the finished product a more professional look.

If you are at the beginning of your amigurumi journey though, or someone who needs a watertight excuse to make more cute, quirky plushies, this book really does have everything you need to achieve a successful and jolly faux-taxidermy look for your home.

Yours in yarn,

Mad Martha

A Double-Dip Review Featuring Two Perennial Aussie Favourites!

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I’m very excited about today’s double-dip review because I get to bring you two of the shelf’s favourite characters in their newest picture book outings.  Better than that even, both of today’s books are by stalwart Aussie picture book authors and illustrators.  So grab your lamingtons and meat pies and let’s get stuck into today’s double-dip!

grug bruce wombat

First up, we have (somewhat fashionably late!), Grug and His First Easter by Ted Prior, which we gratefully received from Simon & Schuster Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

One warm sunny day, at the end of summer, Grug discovers that Easter is on its way.

Then he is visited by a mysterious creature, who leaves treats of special eggs for Grug to find.

Grug and his bush friends look for the eggs, and Grug makes some art from the shiny wrapping.

But who is the mysterious creature? Will Grug ever find out?

Dip into it for… Grug and his first easter

…another short but thought-provoking adventure from everyone’s favourite mutated Burrawang tree!  I must admit that I was surprised that Grug has been strolling around the bush for 30 years and is only just now discovering Easter, but this is a great choice for a book that addresses the absolute ridiculum of trying to explain the unique mash-up of seasonal, pagan, Christian and pop-culture motifs that make up the modern celebration of Easter to children who live in a hemisphere where Easter falls in Autumn, not Spring, and in a state where rabbits are banned.   Grug, of course, takes such nebulous concepts in his stride, having a bit of a ponder in his burrow, before the Easter Bilby delivers some chocolate eggs, and Grug demonstrates the virtues of recycling the foil wrappers before life continues much as before.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re expecting a cutesy story about Grug helping the Easter Bunny to save Easter or other such rubbish.  That’s not how Grug rolls.

Overall Dip Factor

I am heartily impressed with Ted Prior’s work here – from Grug’s charming little bobble-hat, to his worried preponderance over the thought of being born again, Prior has captured both the simplicity and the competing symbolism of the season.  The only thing that would have made this stellar for me was if the Easter Bilby had been dispensed with in favour of one of our two cute (if spiky and/or poisonous) egg-laying mammals – the platypus or the echidna – just to add to the general confusion of the season.  If you aren’t from Australia, and fancy getting a taste of the unique blend of elements that go into an Aussie Eastertime, you should definitely pick up Grug and His First Easter – I guarantee it has fewer calories than chocolate.

Next up we have everyone’s favourite wombats (sorry Muddle-Headed Wombat, you have been eclipsed in popularity!) returning in the next installment of the Diary of A Wombat series, by the unbeatable team of Jackie French and Bruce Whatley: Grandma Wombat.  Just in time for Mother’s Day too.  We gratefully received a copy of Grandma Wombat from HarperCollins Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

She eats. She sleeps. She scratches.

And like all grandmas, she thinks her grandson is the best-behaved baby ever.

But this baby wombat has other ideas …

Created by author Jackie French and illustrator Bruce Whatley, this delightfully funny book celebrates the love and joy that being a grandma can bring.

grandma wombat

Dip into it for…  

…a wombat adventure featuring rude ‘roos, unexpected vehicular transportation and more than a little bias on the part of one very proud (but sleepy-eyed) grandmother.  Now it is no surprise that the shelf loves this series dearly, but we had noticed that the mini-fleshlings in the dwelling weren’t taking to some of the books in the series as well as we shelf-dwellers did.  That all changed with Grandma Wombat, with both shelf-dwellers and mini-fleshlings laughing heartily at the antics of one cheeky baby wombat.  Enormous props must be given to Bruce Whatley for the subtle yet hilarious facial expressions on everyone from the dog to the baby kangaroo to the humans in this surprising adventure.  Here’s a snippet to give you a taste of the hilarity waiting in the illustrations alone:

dogkangaroo lady

 

 

So what on earth is going on with these wombats? You’ll just have to read to find out!

Don’t dip if…

…Nope. Can’t think of a single reason not to.

Overall Dip Factor:

I love the way that the creators of this series continue to reinvent the story, with new wombats, new settings and unexpected adventures.  If you are looking for a sure-fire hit book for a gift, then this is certainly a canny option as the story is different enough from the rest in the series to inspire some good laughs, as well as being subtly subversive in terms of Grandma’s functional blindness toward her grandson in a way which parents and grandparents will recognise and appreciate.  All around, it’s another winner from the French/Whatley juggernaut!

Before we leave the wombat family, Mad Martha wishes you to know that she desperately wanted to bring you a “Yarning with Mad Martha” feature for Grandma Wombat, along with a free crochet pattern for baby wombat.  While she did manage to recreate baby wombat in yarn, the method used to recreate Bruce Whatley’s iconic wombaty shapes resulted in a lot of freeforming (ie: winging it) and so she couldn’t wrangle the pattern into a format that could be easily followed by other crafters.  Here’s the final product for your perusal, anyway:

grandma wombat staring

Until next time,

Bruce

Yarning with Mad Martha about…the Edgar books (+ a free crochet pattern)!

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Cheerio my dears!  If you are a fan of the delightfully macabre Edgar Allan Poe, then today’s books are sure to have you quivering with excitement!  Recently we managed to get our paws on some books that have been on our TBR list for a while and just as we suspected, they were a hit with the shelf-denizens AND the mini-fleshlings!  edgar and the cover_Fotor

I speak of the Edgar series of books, part of the Babylit range by Jennifer Adams, that introduces the tiniest of fleshlings to literary classics.  While most of this range are in the form of primers, the Edgar series bumps things up a bit, with more text, a story loosely based on the originals and a gorgeous pair of protagonists that you can’t help but fall in love with….and of course, recreate in yarnful glory.

The first book in the series is Edgar Gets Ready for Bed, inspired by Poe’s famous poem, The Raven.  Following on from this we have Edgar and the Tattle-Tale Heart and most recently, Edgar and the Fall of the Tree House of Usher…I’m pretty sure you can guess the titles of the poems upon which these last two are based.

edgar gets ready for bed

edgar and the tattle tale heart

tree house of usher

Sadly for us, our library only had the second two books in the series, so we’re still hanging out to read about Edgar and getting ready for bed (“Nevermore!”) but the second two books were hugely enjoyable.  The older mini-fleshling particularly loved the Tree House of Usher with its initial “No Girls Allowed” theme, while the younger mini-fleshling enjoyed seeing Lenore (Edgar’s younger sister) finally receive the recognition that she deserved.

edgar face to face_Fotor Even if you haven’t read the original poems (in which camp I fully admit to sitting), the stories stand well in their own right.  For those who are more familiar with Poe’s work however, you will find plenty of motifs in both the text and Ron Stucki’s darling illustrations.  The books are available in paperback and hardback as well as board book (our favourite!) formats, so there will be a perfect edition for mini-fleshlings of any age.  We’d definitely recommend Poe fans and Poe fans-to-be check these out (either with your eyes, or from the library – we did both!) at your earliest convenience!

edgar on a bust

Edgar quickly found a bust on which to perch

 

Now, on to the crochet pattern!  I will admit that this pattern may have a few small errors in it, as I tried to render Edgar’s head and  body in one single piece, rather than attaching a beak separately.  The pattern is written in US crochet terms because that’s how I learned first.

What you will need:

Black yarn

Small amount of white yarn

3.5mm crochet hook

Stitch marker

Pipe cleaners or thin wire

Scissors

Yarn needle

Head, beak and body

Using black yarn, make a magic ring and crochet 6 sc in the ring

  1. 2sc in each sc around (12)
  2. *2sc in the next sc, sc* repeat x 6 (18)
  3. Sc in the next 6 sc; 2sc in the next 6 sc; sc in the next 6 sc (24)
  4. Sc in the next 8 sc; ch 1, turn (8)
  5. Repeat round 4 (8)
  6. Repeat round 4 (8)
  7. Sc in next 8 sc, then continue in the round sc in the next 16 sc (24)
  8. Sc2tog; sc in the next 4sc; sc2tog, ch 1, turn (6)
  9. Sc in next 6 sc, ch 1 turn (6)
  10. Repeat round 9 (6)
  11. Sc in next 6 sc, then continue in the round sc in the next 14 sc (20)
  12. Sc2tog, sc in the next 2 sc, Sc2tog, ch 1, turn (4)
  13. Sc in the next 4 sc, ch1, turn (4)
  14. Repeat round 13 (4)
  15. Sc2tog, sc2tog, ch1, turn (2)
  16. Sc in the next 2 sc, ch 1, turn 90 degrees (2)
  17. Sc down the edge of the beak and continue with 1 sc in each sc and back up the beak, back to the point of the beak
  18. Repeat round 17
  19. Repeat round 17
  20. Repeat round 17
  21. . Sc in the next 8 sc (place a stitch marker here!), sc in the next 18 sc, SKIP the stitches that make up the beak, slip stitch in the sc with the stitch marker. Stuff the head a little here if you wish. (26)
  22. 2sc in the SAME sc, sc in the next st; *2sc in next sc, sc in the next sc* repeat 5 times (27)
  23. *2sc in the next st, sc in the next sc* repeat 6 times (41)
  24. Sc in each sc around (41)
  25. Repeat round 24
  26. Repeat round 24
  27. Repeat round 24
  28. Repeat round 24
  29. *Sc2tog, sc in the next sc* repeat 6 times (27)
  30. *Sc2tog, sc in the next sc* repeat 6 times (18)
  31. *Sc2tog, sc in the next sc* repeat 6 times (12)
  32. Stuff the body and head here.
  33. Sc2tog repeat 6 times (6)
  34. Sc around (6)
  35. Fasten off leaving a long tail. Using the yarn needle, weave the tail through the last round of sc, pull tight, knot and snip remaining tail off.

Finishing the beak

Using the yarn needle and black yarn, whip stitch the open stitches at the bottom of the beak together.  Tie off and snip remaining yarn away.

Tail

Using black yarn, make a magic ring and crochet 6 sc in the ring.

  1. Sc in each sc around (6)
  2. Repeat round 1 eight more times
  3. Flatten the tail, fasten off leaving a long tail and attach to the back of Edgar’s body at a jaunty angle.

Wings (Make 2)

Using black yarn, make a magic ring and crochet 6 sc in the ring.

  1. 2sc in each sc around (12)
  2. Repeat round 1, three more times
  3. Flatten, and sc across the opening
  4. *Ch 6, sl st in the next sc* repeat 3 times
  5. Fasten off and attach to Edgar’s body, with chains facing tail.

Eyes (make 2)

Using white yarn, make a magic ring and crochet 6sc in the ring.  Sl st into the first sc.  Close the ring tight, fasten off and stitch onto Edgar’s face.  Use black yarn to embroider pupils.

Hair

Using two short strands of black yarn, surface slip stitch to the top of Edgar’s head.  Knot and pull tight.

Legs (Make 2)

Cut your pipe cleaner or wire into two short sections of about 1.5cm.

Using black yarn, ch 1, sc over the pipe cleaner until your pipe cleaner is covered in sc stitches.

Ch 6, attach to the final sc on the pipe cleaner with a sl st. Repeat twice more.

Fasten off and attach leg to Edgar’s body firmly.

edgar and brucey_Fotor

I hope that these instructions are easy enough to follow.  Of course, if you’d like to make a little Lenore to keep Edgar company (as well as to keep a beady eye on him!) you can follow the pattern above and just add a small bow to the head.

Until we meet again, I am,

Yours in yarn,

Mad Martha

 

 

Yarning with Mad Martha about Crochet Stories: Grimm’s Fairy Tales…

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Welcome, my dears, to another yarning session with me, Mad Martha.  If you are a fan of fairy tales and crafting, then today’s book is sure to delight and inspire!  I speak of Crochet Stories: Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Vanessa Putt, which I gratefully received from the publisher via Netgalley, and immediately immersed myself in, hook at the ready.  Before I show you my completed glories, let’s take a closer look at the book itself.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Practitioners of amigurumi, the Japanese art of crocheting stuffed dolls, will adore this collection of sixteen playful patterns for fairy-tale figures. Projects include the witch and the gingerbread house as well as the hero and heroine of “Hansel and Gretel”; the giant and the golden goose of “Jack and the Beanstalk” in addition to the beanstalk and Jack himself; the long-haired captive of “Rapunzel,” her lonely tower, and her rescuer, the prince; the animals of “The Hare and the Hedgehog” plus a juicy carrot; and the wee subject of “Tom Thumb” and his cow.


Clear instructions for creating the characters are accompanied by color photos of the finished products along with charming retellings of all five fairy tales. An introductory chapter offers general notes and tips, including pointers on working in the round, stuffing, measurements, and finishing.

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Just from that front cover, I could tell that this would be a charmingly whimsical repository of achievable patterns.  What I didn’t expect was the inclusion, before each pattern set, of a traditional version of each fairy tale.  Each of these covered a couple of pages and I felt they were a neat set-up for each of the pattern sets – as well as providing the option for eager mini-fleshlings to act out the story with the dolls as it is being read.

After flipping hastily through the pages, I decided that my first attempt would be creating the witch from the Hansel and Gretel tale, mainly on account of her alluring hair.  You can see the image of the witch on the front cover there – top right hand corner.  I am pleased to say that the pattern was clear and easy to follow and the witch worked up in a jiff!  Here she is:

witchDespite being reasonably experienced at amigurumi, I do think this is a pattern that is simple enough for a beginner to follow, with no particular tricks or traps.  In fact, the witch is probably a bit easier than the standard person shape because she is worked in only two colours and there’s no need to complete legs…so a win for the first pattern I tried!

Next up, I couldn’t resist having a go at the heart-meltingly sweet giant from the Jack and the Beanstalk tale, dressed up as he is in his dear little lumberjack guise.  Bless!  Here he is:

giant

The perfect gift for a hipster, craft-beer-brewing friend! This pattern was significantly trickier than that for the witch because of the colour-changes needed, the addition of legs and the patterning on the shirt.  The giant took me a little longer than expected and I felt that the hook size recommended in the pattern was a touch too big for my preferences, but I am extremely happy with the result of this pattern nonetheless.  Especially the beard – gorgeous!

As well as the people and animals in the tales, there are also structures to craft, including bruce and witchthe witch’s gingerbread house, the beanstalk and Rapunzel’s tower.  I didn’t have quite the level of commitment to go ahead and complete them for you, but they are a fun inclusion (and a worthy challenge) for those who want to make a complete playset.  I absolutely adored the golden eggs in the Jack and the Beanstalk tale, and tiny Tom Thumb would be a fun challenge for those who like to use a smaller hook.

Overall, I was very pleased with this book.  Even though there aren’t any picture tutorials, the patterns are clear and include recommended yarn types and colours.  The patterns cover a range of skill levels and techniques, which are clearly stated at the beginning of the patterns.  I’m not convinced that this would necessarily work for an absolute beginner at crochet, but for those who know the basic stitches and want to branch out into simple amigurumi, this would be a sterling choice!

mountainside dinner

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

 

 

 

 

Yarning with Mad Martha: Lockwood & Co (The Whispering Skull) …plus Make Your Own Desktop Skull-in-a-Jar!

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yarning with mad martha_Fotor (2)Welcome to another spot of yarning with me – Mad Martha!  Bruce has asked me to share with you our thoughts on the second book in the Lockwood & Co YA paranormal series by Jonathan Stroud – The Whispering Skull – as we have just managed to stab it with our grappling hook and haul ourselves over it in our climb up the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for 2016 (hosted by My Reader’s Block).  Click on the image for more information on this wonderful challenge:

Mount TBR 2016

As I’m controlling the blog today, you know there will be some DIY crafty component to the review and at the end of this post I will leave you some instructions on how to create your own skull-in-a-jar shelfmate:

   bruce and skull_Fotor

I will, however, make no guarantees as to the likelihood or otherwise of your little skull whispering to you.  Although Bruce looks hopeful.

But let’s not let this bony little cutie-pie steal the show! Without further ado, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn’t made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood’s investigations. Finally, in a fit of anger, Anthony challenges his rival to a contest: the next time the two agencies compete on a job, the losing side will have to admit defeat in the Times newspaper.

Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the excavation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well-until George’s curiosity attracts a horrible phantom.

Back home at Portland Row, Lockwood accuses George of making too many careless mistakes. Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in the ghost jar. Then the team is summoned to DEPRAC headquarters. Kipps is there too, much to Lockwood’s annoyance. Bickerstaff’s coffin was raided and a strange glass object buried with the corpse has vanished. Inspector Barnes believes the relic to be highly dangerous, and he wants it found.

lockwood and co

It has been far too long between paranormal drinks for we shelf denizens and this series.  We loved the first book, The Screaming Staircase , and have kept the other two books in the series in our back pockets, so to speak, for those moments when we need a sure-fire ripper read.  Once the Mount TBR Challenge came along though, we decided to take the plunge and get into the second book to ensure we don’t get left too far behind as more books are released.

This one picks up pretty well immediately after the first leaves off, with Lucy, George and Lockwood drawn into an investigation featuring a dangerous relic made by members of Victorian high society who had a penchant for trying to communicate with the dead.  The banter between Lucy and George makes a welcome return and very early on it’s obvious that relationships between our three heroes will become strained as the stakes of the investigation – and the body count – gets higher. There is the added problem of the ever-present and ever-irritating Fittes agents, led by pompous Quill Kipps, who are competing with Lockwood & Co to solve the mystery and win the acclaim (and payment).

We were tantalised with the whisperings of the titular skull in the first book and this second instalment gives the trio some new insights into who the skull might have been.  Lucy knows however, that there is something not-quite-right about the skull’s sudden turn toward verbosity (apart from the obvious lack of vocal chords on a skull), yet struggles to get Lockwood to see the light.  We are left hanging again at the end of this instalment, with some questions answered about the skull, but some intriguing threads left loose.

I didn’t find this book quite as terrifying as the first in the series, but there are definitely some hairy scenes where it’s touch and go for the main characters.  Stroud seems to have a knack for stringing out the action, allowing the pace to slow before ramping things up in alarming fashion.  There were also a few niggling bits that Bruce and I found a bit off about the plot – one or two plot points that seem pretty obvious early on (and turn out as expected) but are missed, improbably, by the main characters.  That aside, this is certainly a worthy addition to the series and we are all now looking forward to The Hollow Boy, when we get around to it.

Now on to the craft!  I am certain that all fans of this series (and some who aren’t) will be itching to get their paws on a little skeletal companion so here are some instructions for how to whip up your own Whispering Skull*!

*Whispering not guaranteed*

skull and book_FotorYou will need:

*a jar (with or without lid)

*a small amount of white yarn (we used acrylic)

*a small amount of black yarn
*a small amount of grey or brown yarn
*a yarn needle
*scissors
*a small amount of stuffing
*a size 3.5 mm crochet hook
*green cellophane
*sticky tape
The Skull 
I decided not to reinvent the wheel and used this pattern by NerdyCrochetGal to create a mini skull.  It turned out to be the perfect size and something that could be whipped up super-quick.  I used grey yarn to crochet two little circles for the eyes, a triangle for the nose and just did some satin stitches for the mouth.  Unfortunately I made the nose hole too big, and the eyes too small, so my skull has a slightly odd expression – but there you are.  You can learn from my mistake.
The Jar
Here’s where you’ll need the cellophane and tape.  The skull in the book is described as having a green plasma that whirls around it now and again, so I used green cellophane to tint my jar the correct colour.  Wrap some cellophane around the outside of your jar to measure how much you will need.  Cut this section of cellophane out and tape it to the inside of your jar.  Place your skull inside the jar.
The Lid
If your jar has a lid already, you can decide whether you want to do this part.  My jar was lidless, so I crocheted a circle wide enough to cover the opening (in double crochet stitches) and then repeated the number of stitches in the final round 4 times (using single crochet stitches) to create an overhang.  Then I stretched my faux lid over the top of the jar.  Finished!  Even if your jar has a lid, you could crochet a little cosy over the top using the same method.
skull and book two_Fotor
Now your little bony friend is ready to adorn your desk, shelf or other home- or office-based niche. Enjoy!
If you haven’t discovered the Lockwood & Co series yet, we shelf denizens highly recommend taking a look at it.
Cheerio my dears,
Mad Martha