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

Yarning with Mad Martha about…Graphic Novel “Light” (+ a free crochet pattern!)

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I am beyond delighted to be with you today, to yarn about an uplifting, adventure-filled, delightful wordless graphic novel with a protagonist that you will just want to render in crochet.  Luckily for you, I have done just that and will share my pattern with you so you can do the same – bliss!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We received a copy of Light by Rob Cham from the publisher via Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This wordless comic book follows the exploits of a backpack-toting adventurer in a quest to find a mysterious treasure. Framed in black, the illustrations offer delightful bursts of color and are sure to entertain readers of any age.

light

Wordless picture books, or wordless graphic novels, can be a tricky subgenre to connect with.  Sometimes the reading experience is profound or hugely memorable, while other times you can get to the end of the book and think, “What on earth was that about?!”  I am pleased to report that Light sits neatly in the former camp, slowly revealing a story of altered goals and shifting perspectives told through a cast of silent, yet original and quirky characters.

The protagonist is the small white hominid on the cover, who we meet as he (she?) is preparing for some sort of quest.  It’s not immediately clear what the quest is about or why our friend is embarking upon it, but the early stages of it seem fraught with danger and risk.  Armed with only a backpack, map and ineffective-looking sword, our hero sets off through a craggy, inhospitable landscape.  As the story continues, and our friend meets a startling array of creatures, from huge dragon-like beasts, to formless giants to a particularly spindly guru (of sorts), he (she?) makes a friend, and more than a few enemies.

And of course, it’s one thing to make it safely to your goal, but quite another – as any Hobbit will tell you – to get back home in one piece.  It is during the second half of the book that the story takes some unexpected turns and the result is a heartwarming (but not corny) and uplifting ending.

The dark background on which the monochrome illustrations sit slowly gives way to brighter bursts of colour as the story continues and by the end of the book, the pages are replete with bright, almost neon flares that reflect the atmosphere of the adventure.  If you are curious as to the illustrative style of the book you can visit the author/illustrator’s website and have a look at some of the page spreads. 

I couldn’t read this book and not have a go at creating a little version of Light’s intrepid, and open-minded hero, and here’s what I came up with:

light-1 light-2 light-3

The little guy is pictured here with his backpack, trusty sword and a red gem (which is one of the objects of his quest).  I’m pretty happy with the way he turned out and he has already started exploring the shelf and investigating the other occupants!

If you are uninterested in crochet patterns, you can stop reading now – otherwise, read on for a free pattern to crochet your own little Light dude and his backpack.

Yours in yarn (and unexpected adventure!),

Mad Martha

Free Crochet Pattern inspired by “Light” by Rob Cham

This pattern will allow you to recreate the figure and backpack from the images above and is suitable for beginners with a basic knowledge of amigurumi skills.  The pattern is written using US crochet terms.

You will need:

Yarn (I used acrylic) in white, dark brown and a small amount of black for the eyes.

4 mm hook

Yarn needle

Scissors

Stitch marker

Head:

Using white yarn and 4mm hook, make a magic ring.

  1. Sc 6 in the ring.
  2. 2sc in each sc (12)
  3. *sc in next sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (18)
  4. * sc in next 2 sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (24)
  5. sc in each sc around (24).
  6. sc in each sc around (24)
  7. sc in each sc around (24)
  8. sc in the next 12 sc; *sc in the next sc, 2sc in the next sc* in the next 12 sc (30)
  9. sc in each sc around (30)
  10. sc in the next 12 sc; *sc in the next sc, 2sc in the next sc* in the next 18 sc (39)
  11. sc in each sc around (39)
  12. sc in the next 12 sc; *sc in the next sc, sc2tog in the next 2 sc* in the next 27 sc (30)
  13. sc in each sc around (30)
  14. sc in the next 12 sc; *sc in the next sc, sc2tog in the next 2 sc* in the next 18 sc (24)
  15. sc in each sc around (24)
  16. * sc in next 2 sc, sc2tog in next sc* x 6 (18)
  17. *sc in next sc, sc2tog in next sc* x 6 (12)
  18. Turn head right side out and stuff.  Continue by making sc2tog x6 (6)
  19. FO leaving a long tail.  Thread a yarn needle onto the tail, weave the tail in between the final six sc, pull tight and FO again.

Eyes:

Using black yarn, thread the yarn through a yarn needle and make a knot at the end of the tail.  Insert the needle at the base of the head (where you fastened off from stitching the hole closed) and bring the needle out on one side of the face at about round 7 (just before the face bows outward).  Make a single, straight stitch to form one eye.  Bring the yarn needle out on the same round, a few single crochets from the first eye.  Make another single, straight stitch to form the second eye.  Bring the needle out at the base of the head, FO and hide the tail of yarn inside the head.

Body and legs/feet:

Using white yarn and 4mm hook, make a magic ring.

1.Sc 6 in the ring.

2. 2sc in each sc (12)

3. *sc in next sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (18)

4. * sc in next 2 sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (24)

5 – 14: For the next 10 rounds, sc in each sc around (24)

15.  Begin the first leg by making one sc in the next 8 sc.  Skip the remaining 16 sc in the round and sc into the first sc you made in this round.   Place a stitch marker in this sc.

16 – 18. sc in each of the eight sc you have just made, for three rounds.

19.  Begin shaping the feet.  Sc in the next 3 sc, 2sc in the next 4 sc, sc in the last sc (12)

20.  sc in the next 4 sc, sc2tog in the next 4 sc, sc in the next sc (8)

21.  Sc2tog x 4 (4)

22. FO leaving a tail.  Thread the yarn needle onto the tail of yarn and whip stitch the opening on the bottom of the foot closed.  FO and hide the remaining yarn by threading it inside the leg.

23.  Begin the second leg by counting 4 sc from where the first leg attaches to the body.  Attach the yarn in the next sc with a slip stitch, and sc in the next 8 sc. (8)

24.  Repeat the process from round 16 to round 22 to create the second leg.

25.  Stuff the body through the opening at the bottom, using a crochet hook or other small poking device to ensure the stuffing fills out the feet.  Stitch the remaining single crochets at the bottom of the body closed, FO and weave in the tail of yarn.

Arms (Make 2)

Using white yarn and a 4mm hook, make a magic ring.

  1. sc 6 in the ring.
  2. *sc in the next 2 sc, 2sc in the next sc* x 2 (8)
  3. sc in each sc around (8)
  4. *sc in the next 2 sc, sc2tog in the next 2 sc* x 2 (6)
  5.  Sc in each sc (6)
  6. Repeat round 5 five times.
  7. FO, leaving a long tail for attaching to the body.
  8. Stuff

Backpack

Using brown yarn and a 4mm hook, make a magic ring.

  1. Sc 6 in the ring.
  2. 2sc in each sc (12)
  3. *sc in next sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (18)
  4. * sc in next 2 sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (24)
  5. sc in each sc (24)
  6. Repeat round 5 four times.
  7. Begin working on the flap.  Sc in the next 10 sc. (10)
  8. Ch 1, turn, sc in each sc (10)
  9. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog, sc in the next 6 sc, sc2tog (8)
  10. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog, sc in the next 4 sc, sc2tog, (6)
  11. Ch 1, turn, sc in each sc (6)
  12. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog, sc in the next 2 sc, sc2tog (4)
  13. Ch 1, turn, sc in each sc (4)
  14. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog twice (2)
  15. Ch 5, and sc in the next sc to make a closing loop for the backpack.
  16. Ch 1, turn, sc in each sc around the top of the backpack.  FO, weave in the ends and turn right side out.

Straps (make 2)

Attach yarn in the sc next to where the flap joins the open top of the backpack.  Chain 5, FO and using a yarn needle, attach the free end of the chain to the bottom of the backpack.

Sew a french knot on the front of the backpack big enough for the closing loop to fit around.  Now you’re dude can open and close his pack!

Attaching the bits and pieces:

Sew the head to the body, lining up the back of the head with the back of the body.  This ensures that the dude’s bulbous nose sticks out a bit more in the front.  Attach the arms on either side, close to where the head is joined.  Slip the backpack straps over the arms and you have an adventurer!

This pattern is provided for free.  Please don’t steal it and use it as your own.  You are welcome to make as many adventurer dudes as you like to keep or give as gifts.

 

 

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

Yarning with Mad Martha: My First Knitting Book…

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A hearty hello to you all!  Today I’m breaking new ground and taking on the world of knitting (eep!) with My First Knitting Book Easy to Follow Instructions and More Than 15 Projects by Hildegarde Duezo and translated by Marina Orry.  I requested the book from the publisher via Netgalley, working under the assumption that if I were to take up knitting using a book, working from a book aimed at children should be the best place to start.  Surely the instructions therein would be far easier to follow than those in a book aimed at adults?  Well, just wait and see!  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

If you want to learn to knit, you only need a ball of yarn, knitting needles, some patience — and this book! It’s the ideal introduction to knitting, with easy-to-follow, full-color instructions for more than fifteen projects. Clear, step-by-step explanations of basic techniques make this guide great for beginners of all ages, especially those wishing to create handmade gifts.

An introduction explains the how-to of knitting, from holding the needles and yarn to casting on, basic stitches, and finishing touches. Patterns start out as simple as can be and gradually become more challenging, although by no means difficult. Readers can advance from bracelets, hair ornaments, and pocketbooks to scarves and hats, in addition to a charming variety of household decorations.

my first knitting book

Although the blurb mentions that “some patience” is needed, I would have to say, after having a crack at this book, that “infinite patience” is needed to get started when learning to knit from scratch.  My early frustrations may have had something to do with the fact that I expected (completely reasonably, I might add) to master the basic stitches in about ten minutes and be moving on to completing the projects.  Needless to say, this didn’t quite pan out as I had planned.

Beginning at the beginning (which, according to Julie Andrews, is a very good place to start) I followed the pictures and brief, step-by-step instructions and attempted to cast on.  After about twenty minutes, countless re-starts, a temper boiling over and my brain repeating on loop “this would be so much easier if there were a HOOK on the end of these needles”, I managed to cast on about thirty stitches, thusly:

knit cast on

Being about ready to throw in the towel at this point, and covered in sweat from my brow, I summoned every ounce of fortitude I possess and pressed on to the basic knit stitch.  I didn’t find this quite so difficult as casting on (although thoughts of “why on earth are these loonies using two straight sticks when they could have put a HOOK on the end?!” persisted), and eventually got up a bit of a rhythm.  I did drop a few stitches here and there while attempting to slip the stitch off the end of the needles, but soldiered on because the book gave no indication of what to do in such a situation and I had no clue how to fix it.   Having completed a row of knit stitch, I moved on to purl stitch, which didn’t seem quite so difficult after the trials of casting on and knit stitch, leaving me with this epic piece of needlework:

knit finished rows

You can see from the unevenness of the rows that something has clearly gone a bit wrong here, and at this point I thought the book could have done with a “troubleshooting” section.  As completing these three rows took me just over an hour, my interest in learning to knit diminished quickly, and I wondered how likely it would be for a young person to want to keep going at this point if they didn’t have a helpful, knit-knowledgeable adult around to assist and motivate.

The book provides instruction in a number of other stitches, as well as important things like increasing and decreasing, casting off and seaming pieces together.  The instructions are accompanied by colour illustrations, but I couldn’t help thinking that actual photographs might have been more helpful, either as a replacement for the illustrations or used alongside them.  I have found, when working crochet patterns from blog tutorials, that seeing actual photos of the work in progress is remarkably helpful.

The projects seem basic enough – there is a cute little coin purse, a keyring, some egg-cosies and keen-looking bracelets, amongst others – but again, if you are starting from scratch, gaining enough practice in the basics in order to start working on a project seems like a long path to walk.

I have put aside my desire to learn to knit for the moment after reading this book, given that I can achieve the same, or better, results more quickly with crochet and Tunisian crochet techniques in everything except for socks.  If I were to pick this book up again to continue my brief knitting journey, I would make sure it was supported by a helpful, knowledgeable fleshling to assist with troubleshooting, or failing that, a whole slew of Youtube videos.

But enough about me – what about you?  Have you ever tried to pick up a skill like this from a book? How did you fare?

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

Yarning with Mad Martha about Nobody Likes a Goblin (+ a free crochet pattern!)

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Cheerio my dears!  Today is a red-letter day because not only do I have a wonderful picture book and pattern for you, I can also reveal that today’s book – Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke – is a Top Book of 2016 Pick!  The perfect choice for little (and large!) dungeon-crawlers everywhere, this gorgeous picture book turns RPG adventuring on its head and presents events from the point of view of the supposed villain.

Bruce's Pick

After having seen the tome on Netgalley and writhing in agony because it was offered by First Second Books, who don’t accept review requests from outside the U.S., we spotted it in PanMacmillan Australia’s catalogue and were THRILLED to be lucky enough to receive a copy.  Honestly, you should have seen Bruce leaping and twirling when the book turned up on the shelf!  I won’t keep you in any more suspense however – here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Goblin, a cheerful little homebody, lives in a cosy, rat-infested dungeon, with his only friend, Skeleton. Every day, Goblin and Skeleton play with the treasure in their dungeon. But one day, a gang of “heroic” adventurers bursts in. These marauders trash the place, steal all the treasure, and make off with Skeleton—leaving Goblin all alone!

It’s up to Goblin to save the day. But first he’s going to have to leave the dungeon and find out how the rest of the world feels about goblins.

nobody likes a goblin.jpg

I cannot praise this book highly enough.  Putting aside the charming and fun illustrations for the moment, the text of this book is incredibly sympathetic to Goblin’s plight, as his home is rudely invaded by adventurous “heroes” and the little introvert must take to the big wide hostile world for the sake of those he values.  My favourite part of the tale is when, after rescuing his friends from the hands of the adventurers, Goblin and his stalwart mate Skeleton are pictured quietly sitting together in the mouth of a cave, “awaiting their doom” while angry, pitch-fork wielding townsfolk amass above.

There’s something really touching about Goblin and the bonds of friendship he forms by the end of the tale.  For young readers who enjoy the RPG gaming world that encompasses the tropes that are reversed here, this will be a wonderfully affirming story that will provide a link between their reading and screen-based worlds.  It has already become a firm favourite amongst the mini-fleshlings in this dwelling, with the youngest (two and three-quarter years old) often calling out for “Nobody don’t like a goblin” as the preferred bedtime story.

We unanimously voted this a Top Book of 2016 pick and we think that Goblin and his friends will fill that special place of all memorable characters from childhood reading experiences.  For that reason, my dears, allow me to provide you with a free pattern to make your very own amigurumi crochet Goblin, so you can oppose anti-goblin sentiments while creating a cuddly little friend !  Read on for the pattern.

goblin and bruce 1_Fotor

We are also submitting this book for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check out our progress toward that challenge here.

Yours in yarn,

Mad Martha

goblin and book 2_Fotor

Free Crochet Pattern – Goblin

This pattern is a bit fiddly, so is probably best suited to those with some experience of amigurumi.  The pattern is written using US crochet terms.

You will need:

Yarn (I used acrylic) in brown, blue, green, white, black, yellow.

4 mm hook

2.5 mm hook

Yarn needle

Scissors

Head/helmet:

Using brown yarn and 4mm hook, make a magic ring.

  1. Sc 6 in the ring.
  2. 2sc in each sc (12)
  3. *sc in next sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (18)
  4. * sc in next 2 sc, 2sc in next sc* x 6 (24)
  5. sc in each sc around (24).  Switch to green yarn.
  6. sc in each sc around (24)
  7. sc in each sc around (24)
  8. *sc in next 2 sc, sc2tog* x 6 (18). Begin stuffing head.
  9. *sc in next sc, sc2tog* x 6 (12)
  10. *sc in next sc, sc2tog* x 4 (8)
  11. sc2tog x 4 (4).  Sl st in next st, snip yarn and thread yarn tail through last four sc.  Pull tight and fasten off.

Helmet guard

Using brown yarn and 4mm hook, chain 20.  Slip stitch in the first chain to form a ring.

  1. sc in the next 10 ch, dc in the next 10 ch, sl st to the first sc
  2. Ch 2, turn, dc in next 10 stitches
  3. Ch 2, turn, hdc in next 3 stitches, dc in next 4 stitches, hdc in next 3 stitches.

Fasten off, leaving a long tail, and stitch to the bottom rim of the helmet, with the longer section at the back of the head.

Horns (make 2)

Using white yarn and a 2.5 mm hook, chain 6.

  1. Sc in 2nd chain from the hook and in each chain (5)
  2. Ch 1, turn, sc in each sc (5)
  3. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog, sc, sc2tog (3)
  4. Ch 1, turn, sc in each stitch (3)
  5. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog, sc (2)
  6. Ch 1, turn, sc in each stitch (2)
  7. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog, sl st to FO.

Whip stitch the two sides of the triangle together and sew onto either side of the helmet.

Eyes (make 2)

Using white yarn and a 2.5 mm hook, make a magic ring.

  1. Sc 6 in the ring.  Sl st to the first sc to close.

FO, embroider a black pupil in the centre and sew to face, slightly overlapping the rim of the helmet.

Jaw

Using green yarn and a 2.5mm hook, chain 13.

  1. sc in second chain from the hook and in each stitch across (12)
  2. Ch 1, turn, sl st in the next 3 sc, dc in next sc, sc in the next sc, sl st in the next sc, dc in the next sc, sl st in the next 3sc.

Fasten off leaving a long tail.  Attach to the bottom of the head, and using brown yarn, embroider along the top of the lip.

Nose 

Using green yarn and a 2.5mm hook, ch 4.

  1. sc in 2nd chain from the hook and in each chain (3)
  2. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog, sc (2)
  3. Ch 1, turn, sc2tog (1)

Fasten off and whip stitch two sides of the triangle together to form the nose.  Attach to face.

Body/Legs

Using brown yarn and a 4mm hook, complete pattern for the head up to and including round 4.

1-5. Sc in each sc around (24)

6. Switch to blue yarn.  Sc in each sc around (24)

7. Sc in next 12 sc, skip next 12 sc, sl st in the 1st sc (12)

8-10. Sc in next 12 sc (12)

Change to brown yarn.

11. Sc in next 12 sc (12)

12. sc in next 5 sc, 2sc in next 3 sc, sc in next 5sc (20)

13. Sc in the next 8 sts, dc in the next 4 sts, sc in the next 8 sc (20)

Stuff leg and body.  FO, Cut yarn and whip stitch bottom of leg closed to form boot.

Attach blue yarn in the first remaining sc on the body and repeat pattern from row 11 to form second leg/boot.

Arms (make 2)

Using blue yarn and a 4mm hook, make a magic ring.

1.Sc 6 in the ring

2-4. Sc in each st (6)

5. Switch to brown yarn. Sc in each st (6)

6-7.  Sc in each sc (6)

Stuff the arm, squeeze the opening shut and sl st across the opening.  Ch 3 picot 5 times to form fingers.  FO and attach to body.

Shoulder guards (make 2)

Using blue yarn and a 4mm hook, chain 7.

  1. Sc in 2nd chain from the hook and in each ch across (6)
  2. Ch 2, turn, hdc in each st across (6)
  3. Ch 1, turn, sc, dc in the next 4 sts, sc (6)

Fasten off and attach to the top of the arm.

Belt/Armour

Using brown yarn and a 2.5 mm hook, chain 30 and sl st with the first chain to form a ring.

  1. Ch 1, sc in each chain (30)
  2. Fur stitch (long) in the next 5 st, sc in the next 5sc, fur stitch in the next 5 st, sc in the next 5 sts, fur stitch in the next 5 sts, sl st to first st. (30)

FO, leaving a long tail.  Snip the loops of the fur stitch and sew the belt to the tummy over the join where the blue yarn changes to brown.Make sure the fur stitch sections are at the front and back, not the sides.  For the shoulder strap, chain the required length (to fit from belt, over shoulder, to belt at the back), ch 1, sc in each chain, then FO and sew shoulder strap into place.

Crown

Using yellow yarn and a 2.5mm hook, chain 30 and sl st into the first chain to form a ring.

  1. Sc in each chain (30)
  2. *Ch 5 picot (sl st, ch 5 and sl st in the same stitch), sc in the next 3 sc* repeat to end.  Sl st in final st.

FO, weave in end.

goblin and book 1_Fotor

 

 

 

 

 

Yarning with Mad Martha about The Birth of Kitaro! (+ a free crochet pattern)

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I am so happy to be with you today my dears for it has fallen to me to introduce you to one of the shelf’s new heroes (and provide you with a free crochet pattern of course!).  We received today’s graphic novel, The Birth of Kitaro by Shigeru Mizuki from PanMacmillan Australia (thanks!) for review and we just fell in love with the little one-eyed yokai boy Kitaro.  Having read Mizuki’s graphic memoir, NonNonBa, a year or so ago, we knew we were likely in for a treat with this collection of short paranormal fiction stories, but we weren’t prepared for how fun and endearing Kitaro would end up being.  But enough shilly-shallying: without further ado, I present to you: The Birth of Kitaro! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads.

Meet one of Japan’s most popular characters of all time-Kitaro, the One-Eyed Monster Boy

The Birth of Kitaro collects seven of Shigeru Mizuki’s early, and beloved, Kitaro stories, making them available for the first time in English, in an all-new, kid-friendly format. These stories are from the golden era of the late 1960s, when Gegege no Kitaro truly hit its stride as an all-ages supernatural series. Mizuki’s Kitaro stories are both timelessly relevant and undeniably influential, inspiring a decades-long boom in stories about yokai, Japanese ghosts, and monsters.

“Kitaro’s Birthday” reveals the origin story of the yokai boy Kitaro and his tiny eyeball father, Medama Oyaji. “Neko Musume versus Nezumi Otoko” is the first of Mizuki’s stories to feature the popular recurring character Neko Musume, a little girl who transforms into a cat when she gets angry or hungry. Other stories in The Birth of Kitaro draw heavily from Japanese folklore, with Kitaro taking on legendary Japanese yokai like the Nopperabo and Makura Gaeshi, and fighting the monstrous recurring villain Gyuki.

With more than 150 pages of spooky and often funny comics about the titular yokai boy, The Birth of Kitaro is the perfect introduction to the award-winning author Mizuki’s most popular series, seminal comics that have won the hearts of Japanese children and adults for more than half a century.

kitaro

So although Kitaro is new to us, he has been kicking around in Japan for many a good long year and is well known there as the yokai boy who is available to assist with all your yokai-removal needs, possessing, as he does, the powers of his Ghost Tribe ancestors.  The book is presented in traditional manga format, so younger readers will no doubt find great amusement in having to read from the back of the book to the front.  Before the comics start there is a short introduction explaining Kitaro’s popularity in Japan and some background about the author.  Then we dive straight in to the story of Kitaro’s birth, in which you will meet possibly the most delightful and charming ghost/zombie/undead couple upon which one could ever lay eyes.  These darling creatures are Kitaro’s yokai parents, and their only desire is to find a safe place for Kitaro to grow up before they perish for good.

Following on from this are bite-sized chunks of adventuresome goodness, as Kitaro steps in to assist with all manner of unearthly problems.  These include, but are not limited to, giant sea-cow-crab monsters, face-stealing spirits and shape-shifting cat people.  While they didn’t particularly scare us as adult readers, the stories are full of strange beings and a mythical world that I suspect most westerners wouldn’t be familiar with, so I think younger readers will appreciate this more as “horror” or at the very least, strange ghost stories, while older readers will just revel in the fun and oddity of it all.  The stories all have a tiny bit of a moral, usually related to someone or other behaving in a way that brings misery down upon themselves.  The individual stories are easy to follow and I can picture the excitement imaginative youngsters would experience on discovering Kitaro and his adventures for the first time.

At the back of the book are a few unexpected and fun activities, including a yokai wordsearch, a drawing activity, a “spot the difference” puzzle and a run-down of all the yokai featured in the stories and their geographical origins. Overall, this is an extremely impressive package and it is clear that the creators of the book have gone to great lengths to make it kid-friendly.

We at the shelf would recommend this book most highly to young readers in the middle grade age bracket or older, who are either capable readers or fans of graphic novels (or both!) and are looking for tales that are good, clean, paranormal fun.

We just loved meeting Kitaro and will definitely be seeking out the second collection of stories (whikitaro eyeball 2ch was published a number of years back) posthaste.

Now is probably the ideal time to point out that in the first story in the collection – that involving Kitaro’s birth –  we came across a character who stole the show and quickly became our favourite little disembodied (then re-embodied) eyeball of all time.  We speak of Medama Oyaji, Kitaro’s father (pictured on the cover above – the green gentleman), who, after the decomposition of his undead body, resolves into a single, sentient and extremely active eyeball.   Recreating this charming little father-figure was just too tempting to pass up and it is for that reason that I am now able to offer you….

A Free Medama Oyaji Amigurumi Crochet Pattern!

As ever, the pattern is written using American terminology, because that’s how I learned first.

You will need:

4mm crochet hook

A large amount of white yarn and smaller amounts of black yarn and the colour you would like to use for the iris (I used green).

A small amount of stuffing

A yarn needle

Scissors

Special stitches:

3dc cluster: make 3 dc in the same st.  Before completing the final dc, remove the hook, place it from back to front in the first dc you made.  Pass the hook through the last dc of the cluster, yo and pull through the first and last double crochet stitches.  This will create a little bobble.

Eyeball (Head)

Using white yarn, make a magic ring and crochet six sc in the ring

  1. inc (2sc in each sc) around (12)
  2. *sc in next sc, inc* x 6 (18)
  3. *sc in the next 2sc, inc* x 6 (24)
  4. *sc in the next 3sc, inc* x 6 (30)
  5. *sc in the next 4sc. inc* x 6 (36)
  6. *sc in the next 5 sc, inc* x 6 (42)
  7. *sc in the next 5sc, sc2tog* x 6 (36)
  8. *sc in the next 4sc, sc2tog* x 6 (30)
  9. *sc in next 3sc, sc2tog* x 6 (24)
  10. *sc in the next 2sc, sc2tog* x 6 (18) Turn eyeball right side out and stuff
  11. *sc, sc2tog* x 6 (12)
  12. sc2tog x 6 (6).  FO.  Thread yarn needle and weave end in and out of final six sc.  Pull tight to close the hole, FO and weave in the yarn end.

Body and Legs

Using white yarn, ch12 and sl st into the first ch to form a circle (12)

1-3. sc in each stitch (12)

4. sc in the next 3sc, 2sc in the next 6sc, sc in the next 3sc (18)

5-6 sc in each sc (18)

Sc in the next 4 sc, to move the beginning st to the centre of the figure’s back

Beginning of first leg:

7. sc in the next 9sc, skip 9sc and sl st into the initial sc to join

8-11  sc in each sc of the first leg (9)

12. *sc, sc2tog* x 3 (6)

13-14. sc in each sc (6)

15. sc2tog x 3 (3)   kitaro eyeball 3

FO.  Cut yarn and pull tight.  Using yarn needle, weave in ends.

Join new yarn in the next unworked sc of round 7.

Repeat rounds 8 to 15 to create the second leg. FO, weave in ends.

Stuff the body and legs lightly and attach to the bottom of the eyeball/head.

Arms (make 2)

Using white yarn make a magic ring and sc 6 into the ring.

1 – 5. Sc in each sc (6)

6. sc in next sc, 3dc cluster in the next sc, sc in next 2sc, 3dc cluster in the next sc, sc in the next sc (6)

7. Sc2tog x 3 (3)

FO, weave in end.  Attach arm to body.

Pupil

Using black yarn, make a magic ring and sc 6 into the ring.  Sl st into the first sc.  Pull the ring to close, but leave a small hole.

Change to white yarn.

  1. Ch 1, 2sc in each sc.  Sl St in the first sc to join (12)
  2. Ch1, *sc in the next sc, inc* x 6, sl st in the first sc to join (18)

Change to black yarn

3. Sl st in each sc around (18)

FO.

Using the colour of your choice, embroider colour lines onto your pupil, adding a small white square in the original black magic ring.

Attach your pupil to your eyeball/head.

Display your work proudly!

kitaro eyeball 1

So there you have it my dears!  A fantastic paranormal adventure tome and a cute, cuddly eyeball for your very own.  You can thank me later when all  your friends are begging you to make them a charming eyeball companion.

Cheerio my dears,

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.

79461-X_Putt_1015ek.indd

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