Friday, 22 November 2019

Blog Tour: The Death of Mungo Blackwell

The Death of Mungo Blackwell: Lauren H Brandenburg

I've been struggling to keep on top of my reading pile, lately. Nonetheless, when I received an email a few months back about this book, I knew I'd have to make some time to fit it in to my schedule, so I've read it through my lunchbreaks over the past weeks.

The Death of Mungo Blackwell follows The Blackwells, a family with astounding history and traditions, which include holding their funerals before they die. Their ways are questionable and their stories about deceased relatives are as bold as their red hair, but it is their eclectic wares that keep tourists coming back to their market in the town of Coraloo.  Charlie Price finds himself flung into the chaotic world of the Blackwells when he relocates to Coraloo with his socialite wife, Veleteen, and comic book-obsessed son, Gideon – and soon finds this new way of life under threat. Perhaps it’s time for Charlie to have a funeral of his own…

I loved the idea of a family who hold their funerals before they die - much more fun to be present, wouldn't you say? Apparently, this was based on a distant relative of the author who did one and the same, which she found super intriguing. 

When Charlie and his family lose everything and decide to start life afresh in Coraloo, they suddenly find themselves flung into the midst of an ongoing feud between rival families the Blackwells and the Tofts (think Capulets and Montagues, for sure!) I have to admit, the pace of the main story was a little slow-going for my liking and I'd have preferred a little more focus on the eccentricities of the Blackwells, but it's an enjoyable story nonetheless. After all, it's not every day you can read a story featuring pirates and low-flying macarons at the same time, is it?! 

The Death of Mungo Blackwell is available now. Thanks to Midas PR for the ARC. 

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Friday, 15 November 2019

Friday Favourites: Festive Knits

As the dreaded C-word looms ever closer, my attention has turned to those warm winter woollies that seem to be plugged in advance of Save the Children's annual Christmas Jumper Day on 13th December this year. I don't know about you but we always support this one at work.

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Every year I'm amazed at how many new and unusual designs are released - you'd have thought the festive jumper market would be saturated by now with reindeer and robins, but it seems not. Here are a few of the ones which have caught my eye in recent weeks. 

001: I'm desperately sad that this one only comes in kids' sizes. 

002: More of a winter-y jumper, I'm enjoying the IWOOT range of contemporary pop culture Christmas designs. I figure this one would be perfect for chilling with a mulled wine apres ski on the next skiing holiday. 

003: HelloDODO never fail to come up with designs which are both quirky and quippy. I love their festive offering - of course, that might be because it features a dinosaur. 

004: I love this Pacman design - it's an online exclusive for Tu Clothing and I'm ignoring the fact that it's in the mens secion, because how can a jumper even be gendered?!

005: If a full-on jumper isn't your thing, how about a Christmas tank top instead? And if that's not enough, why not cover it in fairy lights..and toucans?!

006: Not a fan of jumpers full stop? Well, I'd opt for one of Little Moose's wonderful necklaces instead.

007: Enjoying this penguin-y take on fair isle. It makes for a slightly more general "winter" jumper, which I guess you could wear for more months.

008: Little Pig has a new Christmas jewellery collection due out soon, but these Xmas sweater pins are available now as part of her sample sale. 

009: I like this one because a first look, it's a fairly staid design (is that even a thing with a Christmas jumper?!), but it lights up!

010: Festive Muppets? A winner for my best friend who starts the festivities off every year with a rewatch of A Muppet Christmas Carol. 

Do any of these take your fancy? I have a discount code for IWOOT if anyone wants it. Use CHARXMAS for 30% off. 

Of course, I've been considering making myself a Christmas jumper for a while now, too. I really love Andi Satturland's Julgran pattern - but who knows which Christmas it will be before I actually find time to knit one for myself. 

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Tuesday Titles 175..

Dear Edward
Dear Edward: Ann Napolitano

If you're a superstitious person at all, I'll start by suggesting that you don't make the same error that I did and begin this book in the airport waiting area, as you wait to board your plane home. (It's about a plane crash.)
Having said that, if I'm honest, I didn't find that reading this whilst flying home bothered me too much, as I was too engrossed in the story. If anything, it seemed rather fitting.

Gradually, through each chapter, we find out more about the lives of some of the passengers on the plane that day, as well as how Edward - the sole survivor of the devastating crash - attempts to continue with his life even though nothing can ever be the same for him.

Read anything great lately? I've been feeling a little bit stuck in a rut with my to-read list, lately. 

Thursday, 24 October 2019

This is Halloween, this is Halloween..

I'm not sure where this idea came from, now I think about it. A while ago, I was hunting on Ravelry (does anyone else fall in there and get seriously lost...?!) for something else entirely, and I came across this Little Vampire pattern. I bookmarked it, as it wasn't quite the time for spooky stuff, and thought it would be another of the endless things I've saved in my favourites, never to see fruition.


I don't know if it's because I've been working on a woodland wreath (well, I'm actually working on more than one at present) but I guess it means I've had wreaths on the brain. In the depths, a little kernel of (candy) corn of idea was forming and suddenly I'd decided that I was going to make a spooky wreath, for Halloween decor. 

Finding myself between projects a few weeks ago, I began searching for some other spooky bits which I could knit up and add to my wreath. It turned out that the lady who designed the vampire also did a pattern called The Little Zombie, so that made the list of course. 


The mummy, pumpkin, bat and spiders came from a magazine pull-out section of Let's Knit magazine for making a Halloween wreath and I used most of their suggestions, except for the skulls and the witch. Then the witch I did use and the Frankenstein's monster both came from a different free halloween pattern from Let's Knit (here).

I bought the polystyrene inner from The Range (they currently have them in the Christmas section for £2) and used a ball of purple mohair which I'd bought from the bargain bin in one of our local charity shops for 50p earlier in the year to create a garter stitch rectangle which was roughly the size of the wreath. I knitted until I ran out of wool and the lucky thing about garter stitch is the stretch it creates, so thankfully it was just about able to fit with enough wool left to stitch it together. 


One good thing about this project is that aside from the wreath, everything was made using up things I already had in my sewing room. The critters are all made using scraps of yarn, embroidery thread and beads and everything is stuffed using a box of leftover pieces of yarn from making some pom-poms earlier in the year (mostly because I've run out of fiberfill but they seem to work well!) 

I hadn't planned to do the spider web in the middle, but as I was stitching everything onto the wreath, it seemed like a good idea to have one of the spiders hanging from a little wire from the bottom of the wreath and then decided that the other should be on a web. 


I feel as though it worked out pretty well, considering this was a total experiment, I might add more things to it in time, but it probably looks full enough as it is. I'm not sure where to hang it to start with as I don't think I want it to sit outside all of the time getting rained on, but I can't wait to get it on the door before we have some Halloween visitors next week. 

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Irregular Choice: Fantastic Fawn..


I know that we are fast creeping into Autumn and that May seems so far in the past by now, but here I am, finally getting around to sharing one of the amazing pairs I received from the Family Reunion collection. 


As with the recent releases, although a couple of sneak peek pictures are released ahead of the day, usually they're tiny little thumbnails and don't give you a particularly close look at any of the details on each design. I have found that the more recent releases also seem to fall subject to a kind of weird panic-buying FOMO thing where people just seem to buy things without thinking about it. The number of "I bought these but will never wear them" sales posts you see in the following weeks, combined with the options to pay for things on credit or payment plans with some of the retailers, does make me worry for society a little, but I digress. I think I was trying to explain how much more impressed I was with this style in the flesh than the little-to-no detail I'd been able to see in the previews.


OK, so in terms of the heel, yes..we've seen the deer shape before, but this release did introduce us to some completely new colourways. I have to admit, I'd never considered my collection to be lacking in a pink fawn heel, but I adore the colours. The height and proportions of the heel are the same as my Cherry Deer heels. That's about where the similarities stop. The main body of the shoe is a pale lilac mesh, with scalloped green glitter over the top to make a kind of grass effect for some colourful, secret garden vibes.. There are deer, bees, flowers and butterflies on the front and sides of the shoe with a big yellow sunshine on the back. Also, lots of teeny rosebud embellishments around each shoe. 


Then, of course, there are the ankle straps and T-bar, which could be my favourite element. Silk flowers, and a cute pink plastic flower buckle on the strap - absolutely perfect!

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Blog Tour: The Bear in the Fifth Floor Flat..

Book Jacket
The Bear in the Fifth Floor Flat: John Foley*

 Something a little bit different for me today; this book is mostly aimed at pre-teens. So, I had to enlist the help of 11yr old George, to help me out. Whilst G is more into books about Star Wars, dragons or historical battles as a general rule, he was prepared to assist "purely in the name of research". (And possibly because I bribed him with cookies.)

The Bear in the Fifth Floor Flat is a moving, magical and charming tale exploring love, loss and happiness through the lens of a little girl and her extraordinary bear, teaching children the importance of change and how to recognise complex notions like grief.

For young Ruthie and her dog Scruffy the days are full of fun and laughter – until certain events change everything, and it seems that Ruthie will never be happy again. But fate can also be kind, and the sudden arrival of an extraordinary teddy bear begins to restore her happiness – and to save her life just in time for Christmas.

Inspired by a rather strange-looking teddy bear gifted to his wife by her 97-year-old father, so she had something to hug when he was gone, John will donate all profits from this book to charity. As the son of a neurologist who specialised in cerebral palsy, John often heard his father speak about Mencap and their invaluable work for people with a learning disability. Also, a very close friend who encouraged John to start writing, was, as a result of a deadly illness at an early age, deeply affected by a learning disability.

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What did we think? Well, this book is split up into three mini stories. When we begin, our flame-haired cover star Ruthie is a happy, smiley young girl, living in a large family house in Hampstead Heath with her parents. What follows is a gentle and heart-warming account of how these circumstances change for Ruthie, and how she comes to terms with it. 

G says: "It's not the usual kind of book I would read but I think this is a good book because it is secretly teaching kids how to handle things like death and that is really important for everyone to know about because you might have to help a friend."

This would make the perfect stocking filler for Christmas, and is available now online and also from all Mencap bookshops. 

**Disclosure** I was sent this book free of charge for review purposes, but I did make a donation to Mencap, as I believe they're a worthy cause. 

Friday, 13 September 2019

Irregular Choice: Shroomy


Being stuck at home with a cold this week has at least given me a little more opportunity to take some photos of a few of the new arrivals. Along with Zevra, these Shroomy boots arrived this week from Lottie's Atik - my preferred Irregular Choice supplier if I'm honest, as the customer service is second to none. If you ever need fit advice, more photos or just about any query answering, Lottie and Lu are always happy to help out, so I'm more than happy to recommend them.


So, as for the boots? Well, the main body of them is made from a gold quilted effect PU, whilst the sides are an embroidered lilac and gold fabric, with toadstool and floral embroidery on the sides. 


The fronts are scalloped around the laces, which are lilac ribbons and plenty easy enough to loosen off to take the boots on and off. There isn't any other way of opening these, so I was pleased to find it wasn't a faff to get them on by loosening the ribbon laces, as some other styles can take ages. 


The finish has just the right amount of shine, in my opinion. It contrasts nicely with the glitter which is found around the scalloped edging and on the heel.


Just the regular sole for these - I think I'd been expecting the 20th anniversary print, but that's no big deal - I don't protect my soles and it's not as though anyone ever sees the underside of my shoes anyway. 


The heel is a fairly low one (for me) at around 7cm. These boots are the same as Chinese Whispers, just with different finishes, and also similar to my Dolly Mixture boots in height, although a slightly more chunky heel.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Irregular Choice: Zevra

It's been a while since I've been particularly quick off the mark with sharing some photos of a new addition to my collection, but I've had a few messages already asking for more photos of them, so here we are. 

So, I've mentioned a few times already this year that I feel as though the old Irregular Choice style I fell for when I first discovered the brand, is making a comeback, and I am seriously excited to see what's next. I'm also pleased that there is still plenty to keep us non-Disney fans interested. (I have to admit I'm not excited by the endless plain coloured glitter low heels, so I've been glad to see the recent new arrivals appealing more to my liking). 


In a sneaky little mid-week release, Irregular Choice release their new "safari" collection, featuring heels, flats, bags and jewellery with a zebra theme. I'm glad that there are more and more flats being released lately, as I know that's been a common criticism over the years, but as ever, I was only interested in the Zevra heels. I was a little torn over which colourway to opt for. After some deliberation, I plumped for the pink, and I wasn't disappointed when they arrived.  


I know this is very much a zebra, but this design has some serious Audrey Loves vibes, with the shape of the face and the stripes. (Throwback post here if you can't remember that far back!) The toe shape is gently pointed, but certainly not enough to need to size up - I went with my normal size in these and they're spot on. 


The insides are the lovely leopard print we've been seeing a lot of this season (in Tonkasaurus Rex for example) and the main section of the shoe is lovely glittery PU with cut-out detail to show the bright pink below, which gives them a lovely texture too. 


One of my favourite features of these (and several other new releases) is the glitter-bomb heel. No, it might not be the first time we've seen things embedded in the heels (hello Low Level Danger, Chestnut and A Million Dreams, to name a few) but it's the first which I can recall being full of glitter which moves around like this. The heels are made from a pink acrylic which is not only curved, but also hollow in the middle and filled with pink glitter. There's some space in there so that the little glitter particles can shake around and it definitely adds to the party feel of these shoes. They're fairly standard in height (a smidge over 8cm) which bodes well for me as there are several pairs with this heel which are on my current wishlist. 


The zebra tail is made from a ponytail of multi-coloured tinsel, which swishes around with every step. I love this and think this may have been the element which convinced me to go with the multi-coloured option. Again, seriously happy party vibes with this little detail. 


OK, so these might not be a character heel in the same way as we've seen the Family Reunion collection or last week's ducks (there's a post on those to come), but they're certainly a concept heel pair I couldn't miss out on, as I feel like IC are getting back down to business. 


Now I just have to find an outfit to wear them with! What do you think? 

Friday, 23 August 2019

DIY parrot costume..


This year, instead of an Xmas party, we're bringing the party forward and having a summer get-together. Instead of just a BBQ, it was decided that this party should have a theme, and they agreed on pirates. (As a Scrooge, I'm fully in agreement with the avoidance of a festive get together, so I'm on board. Pun not intended.)
A costume party does, of course, mean the requirement for a costume. And surely a pirate costume is a fairly simple one - how many times have I dressed up as a pirate for nights out, parties and the like? Well...loads. So, yes, I have an eye-patch, hat and a pair of boring black boots which I could don for the day. But, I kinda wanted something a little bit....different. 


After pondering this for a while, I wondered whether it would be possible to make a parrot costume. They're piratey, right?! I had visions of one of those terrifying mascot costumes to begin with, but decided there must be a better way to do this. After some online searching, I'd found plenty of tutorials on how to make a pair of bird wings for a kid, and decided I could adapt this. 
Not leaving myself with very much time before the party, I decided I would try to use up what I already had in the sewing room, as it seems dumb to have to buy a shitload of fabric for a costume which will only be worn once. I hunted through my fabric stash looking for inspiration and came across this (parrot?) bird print fabric, which I figured would do for a base, with the added bonus that I will get actual everyday wear from it.


So, first things first I made myself an Emery dress, and lined the bodice with an old pillowcase from a set of bedding which I'd decided was past it's best - I have a drawer-ful of old fabrics like this, all washed and ready to use for scraps, toiles and linings where needed.

I was still pondering how to do the wings, but having made the dress, I at least had a colour scheme to work with. Using that old bedsheet as my base fabric, I measured my arms from the centre of my back to my wrist, and then measured how far down I'd want them to sit, from my shoulder blades down. Marking those measurements out on the sheet, I joined them up with a curved line, and made sure to cut them on the fold so that I'd end up with two wing base pieces of fabric, which matched in size.


Next up, I raided the felt stash, cut myself out a feather shape from cardboard as a template and set to work with my rotary cutter. When I started this, I had done absolutely no calculations as to the number of feathers I would need to complete this. Turns out, it's quite a lot.

Starting at the bottom of each wing, I pinned each feather down in place, ensuring that they were close enough to each other that you couldn't see the backing fabric, and then machine stitched them along the wing from one end to the other, in a line. I made sure that my stitching is up at the top quarter of each feather, in order that it is most likely to be covered by the next row of feathers up.


I then continued to work up from the bottom row, choosing a new colour each time (I didn't follow any pattern with the colours, it was mostly down to how much of each felt I had available as I was using up scraps) and pinned them over each other, so that they'd cover the gaps in the row below. On some rows I was able to add half-feathers to the centre edges to help with the overlaps, but again this was entirely felt-permitting. 


When I reached the top row, I trimmed the top edges, so that any feathers which were overhanging the top edge of the backing fabric were trimmed back down to a straight edge, and then applied some satin bias tape, to give a clean edge. At the centre, I left a long end either side so that I can attach the wings to fit, by tying these ends in a knot or a bow at the centre. This gives them more opportunity to move with my arms, rather than being stitched together in the middle. 
I also added another set of bias tape ties about halfway down the back of the wings, for more stability. 


Next up, I needed to add something along the top edge of the wings, to attach it to my arms when I'm wearing them. I stitched some lengths of elastic to the inside of the backing fabric, so that it's not visible from the front. I put a larger loop, big enough to wear on my shoulders, about 6in in from the top corner, and a smaller loop, which will fit on my wrist, a little way in from the other edge. I didn't measure these, just had someone hold the wings on me, and then pinned where these needed to go, as it really would depend on the arm length etc of the person wearing them. 


Finally, from a little more scrap felt, I cut an eye mask shape and two beak pieces, which I hand-stitched around the bottom edge of the mask, sandwiching it in the middle. I cut out some eye holes, and decorated the top edge with a handful of leftover feathers. A little bit of elastic stitched on the back to go around my head and it's ready to wear.


So, there we have it. My tenuously pirate themed parrot costume. Super easy and made entirely from things I already had lying around in the sewing room. 

Thursday, 22 August 2019

The Corbet bed tapestries..


A few weeks ago I visited the Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery and this was probably my favourite room. The Corbet Bed is on display here (on a long-term loan from the V+A museum), due to it's local links and I was super intrigued by the restoration project and also the matching tapestries. 


The bed was commissioned in 1593 by Robert Corbet, for the master bedroom of Moreton Corbet Castle. It's carved predominantly from walnut wood and when it was relocated to the museum, there was a huge restoration project to create some embroidered replica hanging drapes for the bed, and a bedspread. The work was done by a team of volunteers and took several years to complete. 


Also on display in the same room is the most amazing framed tapestry. I can't seem to find a lot of information about this, but it was incredibly detailed.


Squirrels and castles and bears, oh my! There was an amazing list of items to find in the tapestry, which kept us entertained for ages.


One of my favourite details is the tiny swans (above).


The Corbet bed in all it's completed glory.


Not entirely sure what the animal in the bottom left corner is...dragon?!


Another favourite - the beehives.


Teeny tiny vegetable patches. Super cute!


This one has a travelling circus, arriving in town. And another strange dragon-type creature.

We did wander around the rest of the museum, too, as there was a zombie exhibit on which my sister really wanted to see. Tickets to visit cost £4 for adults and I think that's pretty good for a small, local museum. They put on lots of temporary exhibits and events through the year so there's often something new and different to see.