Monday 22 July 2024

I'm a proper Cantabrigian now

I've lived in Cambridge for fourteen years and before that I was a regular visitor to the city for three years. When my foodbank warehouse colleagues learnt that in all that time I'd never been punting on the Cam, we decided to arrange a punting trip. After our shift on Friday the six of us hired a punt and went for a lovely river pootle along The Backs and then out to Grantchester Meadows.

King's College Chapel
King's College Chapel

It was the hottest day of the year so far and as such the river was very busy and at various points along The Backs it was a bit like water dodgems. It's so pretty, though. I'd never seen Cambridge from this angle and situation before and I had a few "Wow, I'm so lucky to live here" moments.

Mathematical Bridge - Queen's College Cambridge
Mathematical Bridge

When we reached the mill pond we had to use the boat rollers to move the punt up the slipway, across the footpath and into the next stretch of river. Sounds easy but oh my word punts are heavy, and we were grateful when a couple of kindly passers-by stopped and lent us a bit of grunt to complete the task.

This next bit of the river was full of swimmers, paddle boarders, canoeists and kayakers, and everyone was so chirpy and polite. We saw moorhens, a heron, and many ducks. I was really taken with the bright blue and black banded demoiselles we saw flitting about. I'd never seen them before and to start with I thought they were butterflies because of the way they fly. They were so beautiful. (I haven't got a photograph because they were a bit far away for my iPhone to successfully capture them.)

After a little break and some refreshments we headed back. A female mallard took to following our punt and I thought she was going to be alongside us all the way down the river but in the end she got distracted by a young boy on a paddleboard feeding her snacks.

Female mallard

When we got back to the mill pond (shifting the punt down the rollers was way easier than up!) there was a man serenading some gorgeous cows with his guitar.

Guitarist serenading cows at the mill pond, Cambridge

The river was even busier along The Backs by then and people were feeding the Canada geese as we came to the end of our adventure.

Canada geese on the Cam

All in all I had an absolutely brilliant afternoon with a bunch of utterly lovely people and I've been happy and smiley about it ever since.


In garden news...

The intense sunshine has finally made my first two sunflowers bloom.

Yellow and burgundy sunflower

I planted an assortment this year and so far I have one yellow and burgundy one, and one mostly burgundy one.

Burgundy sunflower

In bead news...

I made some cosmic-looking blue beads and turned them into a bracelet.

Handmade lampwork glass bead bracelet by Laura Sparling

The beads are Double Helix Triton wrapped with fine silver wire which I melted into droplets. They're encased with Effetre pale aquamarine 038.

Handmade lampwork glass bead bracelet by Laura Sparling

I've strung the beads with sterling silver beads and the extender chain is finished off with one of two silver star charms that I've had in my beads and findings stash for almost twenty years.

Handmade lampwork glass bead bracelet by Laura Sparling

The bracelet is currently available in my webshop.

If you fancy making your own cosmic-looking jewellery I'll be adding some of the blue beads to the shop in the next couple of days.


In crochet news...

I've started making a grey blanket for our lounge; I seem to have fallen into a habit of making us a new blanket every year.

Crochet Book Sale blanket in progress

This blanket is one heck of a task as the squares are quite complex. Each one is about eight inches square and takes me approximately two hours to complete. I need forty-two and so far I've made fourteen.

The pattern is the Book Sale Blanket by Julia Hart of Draiguna who is one of my absolute favourite crochet designers, and the yarn is Stylecraft Special DK in Silver 1203 and Grey 1099.

Tuesday 9 July 2024

O, woe is me

Lampwork glass flower bead pairs by Laura Sparling

I haven't had much to report because I've been working my way through Ditsybead orders.

I don't know if I'm gradually getting worse at beadmaking or if I'm struggling in some other way (my absolute pillock of a fussy brain) but I've found the past couple of weeks' lampworking to be extremely difficult and stressful. I've closed orders for the flower beads now and I don't think it'd be wise for me to do the taking bead orders thing again. I have a couple of orders outstanding which I will get done, but not today. Today is a day off after yesterday when I attempted one single flower bead eighteen times before calling it a day. There's no point in me sitting there wasting glass, electricity and gas so I decided to take a breather.

If I'm to carry on lampworking, from this point forward it's going to have to be one hundred percent me making what I feel like making.

This is totally about me, not people who want to buy my work.

For years I've prattled on about how my pickiness and perfectionism can be an utter pain and in the past I've always embraced it but it's honestly got to the point where it's debilitating. And not just with beads. At the foodbank warehouse the other day I wrote a box label that said 'BEANS 2026' four times because I wasn't happy with how it looked. That's mental. It's a label in a warehouse and I was irked because it wasn't centred and the '6' was squished etc. This past Christmas I bought sixty cards as I knew I'd end up rejecting loads for similar reasons and sure enough, I sent twenty-four and had just five left over. That's not right.

Anyway, enough of my self-obsessed whining. Pull yourself together, Laura!


In crochet news

The pattern for my 'Joan' shawl is finally totally done. Hurrah!

Handmade crochet shawl pattern

Originally I toyed with the idea of making this a free pattern but a nagging little voice kept asking "You get annoyed when glass publications want your tutorials for free and you turn them down, so why is this any different?" and in the end I listened. When I sat and thought about the hours that went into making the shawl pattern, the drawing of the charts (it was like the beans label and Christmas cards multiplied by three), the liasing with testers, and the pattern edits, let alone me making the shawl five times in various yarns, I just couldn't give it away for nothing.

Handmade crochet shawl pattern

So yes, the PDF pattern is available on Etsy for £2.50 plus any VAT applicable in your part of the world.

About the pattern

Named after my late grandma, Joan is a lacy triangular crochet shawl that is worked from the top down. The seven row pattern repeat is straightforward but not too tedious and the pattern would be good for an adventurous beginner or for anyone wanting a relaxing project that uses non-fancy stitches.

The finished and blocked white-to-black gradient shawl pictured measures approximately 170cm along its top edge (the wingspan) and about 83cm from the centre of that edge down to its point.

  • Written pattern with step-by-step photographs
  • Charts
  • Printer friendly written version
  • You will receive versions in both UK and US crochet terms

Materials

Approximately 1000m of fingering weight or 4ply yarn. For the white-to-black gradient shawl pictured I used a 1000m cotton and acrylic mix 4ply 'Stratford' yarn cake from Crochet UK. The plain blue one took five skeins of Drops Flora in shade 10. I've also made this shawl with YarnArt Flowers and Hobbii Twister yarn cakes. I've crocheted it with DK yarn too so pretty much anything goes. You'll also need your chosen hook and a needle for sewing in your ends, plus blocking mats and pins

The pattern has been fully tested.

Available on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/1741126096/joan-crochet-shawl-pdf-pattern-digital

Monday 24 June 2024

Thirty-five point seven

Handmade lampwork glass flower beads by Laura Sparling

More Ditsybead pairs, this time in Double Helix Theia and Effetre dark topaz/amber 016.

Handmade lampwork glass flower beads by Laura Sparling

These can be purchased on my Available to Order page.

I worked on bead orders this morning but I had to abandon shed at lunchtime when the thermometer said it was 35.7°C in there. That's too warm to think straight. I'll have to make an early start out there in the morning.


In crochet news...

I'm waiting for a yarn delivery as I have a blanket planned so in the meantime I've been making more mandalas.

Crochet mandala wall hanging

I find the go-roundy-roundness of making a doily or mandala to be very relaxing. They're nice small projects too, both size-wise and time-wise.

Crochet mandala wall hanging

This white one was made using a pattern named 'Chrysanthemum Tea' from an old Leisure Arts doily booklet called More Antique Doilies by C. Strohmeyer. I have two doily booklets by this designer and a while back I had a Google about to see what else they had done. I happened upon a blog post where someone was wondering the same thing back in 2016 and one of their readers told them that C. Strohmeyer was a man who once worked as an engineer and he ended up designing crochet and knitting patterns but he didn't use his first name, Charles, as he thought people wouldn't want to buy crochet and knitting patterns designed by a man. That made me quite sad. Don't worry, Charles, I love your patterns - they're so neat and nifty and I very much appreciate your penchant for picots.

Crochet mandala wall hanging

The Chrysanthemum Tea mandala is available in my webshop.

Friday 21 June 2024

Summertime

Handmade lampwork glass flower beads by Laura Sparling

Well, summer has truly arrived. It was the summer solstice yesterday and now it's 23°C out there. I've even got my shorts on!

I've been working on Ditsybeads this week and I've made pairs of them available to order. I don't often do this but I'm in the zone with them and I feel okay about staying in said zone for a bit, so I thought I'd take a few orders.

Handmade lampwork glass flower beads by Laura Sparling
Blue: Effetre dark turquoise 236

Right now there are six options available but I will be adding more next week including some in my favourite purple glass, Double Helix Theia.

Handmade lampwork glass flower beads by Laura Sparling
Green: CiM Meadow

The pink Ditsybeads will be limited because I only have a few shorts of the CiM Gelly's Sty that I use for them and as far as I know, that particular glass is long gone. I donned my big gardening glove gauntlet thing and sorted through my sharp and perilous rod odds-n-ends box and this was what I found:

Creation is Messy Gelly's Sty shorts

So when that's gone, it's gone.

The Ditsybead pairs are £10.00 each (and yes, I know that sounds like a lot but trust me, it's actually nowhere near enough time-wise) and right now the lead time on them is seven working days. You can purchase them on my Available to Order page.


In crochet news...

I'm trying not to shawl. In trying not to shawl I've doilied instead. Then as I was doilying, I thought about my doily stack in its box in the spare room and I felt bad about them all sitting there so on Monday I sorted through them and picked out a few doilies that fit nicely in metal hoops and turned them into mandalas.

Handmade crochet mandala wall hanging
Pattern: 'Sunvale' by Julia Hart

Handmade crochet mandala wall hanging

I do like the way attaching a doily to a hoop turns it from something that would sit under something on a horizontal surface into something that can be displayed on a wall to be looked at.

Handmade crochet mandala wall hanging

These are available, along with some others, in the Crochet section of my shop.

Sunday 16 June 2024

Pure sunshine

Crochet sunflower throw or blanket

The sunflower throw is complete and what a joybringer it is. It makes me smile every time I look at it.

Crochet sunflower throw or blanket

It measures about 100cm x 120cm so it's a good size to use as throw on a sofa or chair back and it's just right for a curled-up-on-the-settee blanket.

Crochet sunflower throw or blanket

I steam blocked the throw to set the stitches which gives it a nice finished look.

Crochet sunflower throw or blanket

The throw is available in my Etsy shop or webshop but for UK customers only.

Pattern: Sunflower Throw by Libbycraftmakes

Yarn: Stylecraft Special DK

Friday 14 June 2024

More Ditsybeads

Handmade lampwork glass flower beads by Laura Sparling

I'm not really a pink person but I'm quite taken with these pink Ditsybeads. They're CiM Gelly's Sty encased with Effetre 006 super clear with flowers in Effetre white 204 and Reichenbach opal raspberry.

Handmade lampwork glass flower beads by Laura Sparling

And these plum-coloured ones are Effetre medium amethyst 042 encased with Effetre 006 super clear with flowers in Effetre white 204 and CiM Hollandaise.

Both of these sets are in my webshop now, along with the lime and teal ones from my previous post.

Wednesday 12 June 2024

Faffing is my thing

Handmade lampwork glass flower beads by Laura Sparling

I'm back into the swing of Ditsybead things. These little beads look simple but I tell you, the execution of them is anything but. If I don't place the dots just so, and if I don't heat them flush in a particular way, they just don't look right. Much faffing is required but that's the way I like it.

The beads that appear easy or effortless are often the ones that take the most skill and experience and it's very easy (and understandable) for non-beadmaker people to assume they are a doddle to make. As a maker I get way more satisfaction from crafting a well-made polka dot bead than I do a cat or cupcake bead but judging by the number of requests I still get for them, people seem to be more enamoured with the latter. I decided a long while ago to make the beads I want to make when I feel like making them and I know that makes me sound like a selfish twerp but honestly, if I'd stuck with making cat and cupcake beads I'd have ditched lampworking ages ago. Sometimes you have to be selfish, I guess.

Handmade lampwork glass flower beads by Laura Sparling

These two sets are Effetre dark grass green 024 and light teal 026 with flowers in Effetre white 204 and CiM Hollandaise.

I'm hoping to get a couple more Ditsybead sets made this week and then they'll all be for sale in my webshop, probably late Friday afternoon.

I set fire to my cardigan yesterday. While I was wearing it. A glass rod popped in the flame and I could smell this lingering weird whiff and I looked everywhere trying to find out what was melting and it took about five minutes for me to realise it was my cardigan. It's one that I knitted a few months ago that I've practically lived in since I finished it, so that's annoying. I'll have to make me another and keep it for non-shed use.

Nothing particularly exciting is happening in the garden. The rose and hibiscus bushes seem to be settling in, the sunflowers are starting to go full Triffid, the tomatoes are still doing next-to-nowt, but...

Sea holly

 ...my sea holly has finally gone blue. I flipping love this plant. I don't know why it pleases me so much but it does.


In crochet news...

All forty-two sunflowers for the throw are complete and I've started turning them into squares.

Crochet sunflower blanket squares

I'm off for a tinned red salmon roll and a cuppa for lunch now and then I'll be heading shedward. TTFN!

Monday 10 June 2024

That'll do won't do

When did I last make Ditsybeads? I think it was about a year ago. (I've just checked and yes it was. I wanged on about them for a whole blog post.) When I've not made a certain design for a while it's like I have to retrain my hands and brain in how to execute it. I spent Thursday doing just that and ended up with five Ditsybeads that made it to the kiln. Of those five, two are not quite right, one is just about passable and two I'm happy with. This photo shows the latter three.

Handmade lampwork glass flower beads by Laura Sparling

Today will be about properly getting back into the swing of making Ditsybeads, good ones that I'm totally happy with (you know me when it comes to beads – "That'll do" simply won't do) and then I expect I'll make them until I get bored of doing so and no doubt I'll repeat this whole process in about August 2025.

While I make Ditsybeads I'll be listening to a podcast that I discovered a couple of weeks ago called Imagined Life.

Imagined Life - a Wondery podcast

It's a Wondery podcast (I love Wondery podcasts) and each episode tells the life story of a world-famous person and you're given clues to their identity along the way but you only find out right at the end who the subject is. Sometimes you'll guess before that point but I've been really surprised by some of them. Great stuff. Imagined Life is available on Wondery, Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Amazon Music.

Will the weather please make up its mind? On Friday I wore sunglasses and a sun hat for my walk to and from the foodbank warehouse and today it's been raining for hours and I'm dressed like it's early October. As I'm typing these words the sun is putting in an appearance. Sort your mind out, weather!

This harlequin ladybird was loving the lavender in the sunshine last week, though.

Harlequin ladybird on a lavender bush

I know some people don't like harlequin ladybirds because they pose a threat to our native ladybirds but they're here and living their little lives and if they want to feast on the aphids in my garden they can fill their boots. Munch on, you glossy spotty funbugs!


In crochet news...

Guess what? It's another shawl.

Crochet shawl

I have got to stop making shawls. I need to. I think I've got one more upstairs that needs blocking (but I made it for me so it doesn't count) and I still have the lacy black one on the go but I must put an end to this shawl madness after that one is complete.

Crochet shawl

This magma-y, fiery, sort-of-maybe Halloweeny one is listed in my Etsy shop and my webshop. The pattern is the Sis Shawl by Joanna Grzelak of Sis Homemade and the yarn is YarnArt Flowers in colour 259.

I'm nearing the end of sunflower production. I've almost got the amount I need for the the blanket. The next stage will be turning them into squares.

Crochet sunflowers

Right, it's time for me to make a brew and get down to the shed. See you later!

Thursday 6 June 2024

Blogging like it's 2008

I'm continuing to blog as if nobody's reading (because they aren't) as I'm convinced that blogging is going to make a comeback. Every day I see another person or two say that they're ditching Instagram and I don't blame them. Even if blogging doesn't make a comeback, I care not. I'm enjoying getting back into the swing of writing future blog posts in my head, taking photos of potentially bloggable things and not feeling any pressure to be seen or read, or feeling like I have to perform some weird meme-like behaviour in order to engage.

Anyway, if you recall, yesterday I was off down to the shed with no fixed idea of what I'd be making. I opened up my own bead gallery on Flickr and had a look through there and some 'Crocus' beads I made years ago took my eye so I made some of those.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

These are CiM Hollandaise encased with Effetre dark lavender and the spots and dots are CiM Lapis and Hollandaise, then they've been tumble-etched.

I also made these inky blue ones.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

These are CiM Lapis encased with Effetre light blue 052 with spots and dots in Effetre periwinkle 220 and CiM Lapis.

Sometimes I make beads that would look nice etched and sometimes, like in this case, I make beads that actually look better after tumble-etching. I make them knowing that the colours will work better together in their frosted state than their shiny one.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

Both of these bead sets can be found in my in my webshop.

The weather is cheering up a bit and things in the garden are starting to be colourful. We planted an orange climbing rose in the back garden yesterday so I hope that settles in and does its thing. This morning I took delivery of an hibiscus bush so I need to work out exactly where that's going to go.

My lavender has gone crazy. I got this from the local greengrocer a few years ago when it was a tiny plant and now it's huge.

Please excuse my washing line

I took cuttings from the lavender last year and I've planted those in another part of the garden so fingers crossed they end up crazy too.

I'm absolutely awful at growing edible stuff but the one thing I can normally grow is tomatoes. One of my foodbank colleagues, John, kindly gave me two tomato plants this year and they're just doing nothing. They're not dead but they're not really thriving either. I've done everything I normally do with a tomato plant but nope, I'm not holding out much hope for these fellas.

I never grow strawberries because I don't think I could grow enough to keep me strawberried up. I eat my own weight in strawberries every year. British strawberry season is here (I'm proper Nigel Farage about strawberries) and I'm in full strawberry mode.

Greek yoghurt, strawberries and walnuts

I normally have Greek yoghurt, blueberries, walnuts and a light drizzle of honey for breakfast but I've replaced the blueberries with strawberries and now my breakfast is like a pudding.


In crochet news...

My shawl pattern is currently being test crocheted by some ladies who kindly agreed to make sure I've not written a load of nonsense. It's oddly nerve-racking.

Crochet sunflowers

Meanwhile, I've started making some sunflowers which will become squares which will eventually become a throw. Blanket? Are throws and blankets the same thing? (I've just Googled and yes but no. Blankets are designed for warmth and throws can be used as casual cover-up-your-legs-and-feet-when-curled-up-on-the-sofa blankets but are typically more it-looks-fancy-draped-on-my-armchair decorative sort of things.) 

Anyway, the pattern is the Sunflower Throw by Libbycraftmakes on Etsy and I'm using good old Stylecraft Special DK.

Wednesday 5 June 2024

Not a lot

Handmade crochet amigurumi octopus

I've had a few days off from the shed so I have no beads to show you. Instead, behold my third octopus!

Handmade crochet amigurumi octopus

My nephew, Dylan, requested one and he chose these two yarn colours for him which I think are fab. Dylan received his octopus yesterday and he's named him Jaquarius. Fancy!

That's it for octopi (unless anyone else asks me for one) but I'm still going with the shawls. It's a proper addiction. I think I'm going to have to brave getting a craft stall somewhere around Christmas time because I've got so many now. I mean, I could stop making them but I don't want to because I enjoy it.

Handmade crochet shawl

I made this lavender purple one a few weeks back but I only got round to blocking it last week.

Handmade crochet shawl

It's on my on my website and in my my Etsy shop along with the twenty-odd others.

Pattern: Honey by Bernadette Ambergen / Berniolie

Yarn: YarnArt Flowers Unicolour in colour 748

I'm back down the shed today and I've no idea what beads to make so I shall whack on some music and just see what happens.