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


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:

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


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