Wednesday, December 31, 2014

KTB - Broderie top (and some extras)

Project - New Look 6392 Broderie top in size 3
Started - probably in 2007? It was part of a number of outfits I made for my niece who is now 10.
Finished - November 2014
Gifted - Christmas 2014
It is amazing what you can find when cleaning out the stash. While looking for something else I came across this pattern bundled up with the white broderie already cut up to make a size three top with the puffy sleeves.

I had started it as part of a gift for my now-10-year-old niece. The other items had been finished and gifted but for some reason I never sewed this one up.

I had some dragon and cow fabric already selected to make clothes for my 2-year-old niece and her dolly so I decided to use this pattern and finish the top as part of a set.

I packed up the lot and carted it off to quilt camp in November and had the top, cow shorts and dragon dress completed pretty quickly.
It must have been the elastic casings in the sleeves that put me off last time. I did 8 sleeve casings this time and they ended up pretty neat.

The whole reason for making the clothes was to have matching dolly clothes for the Kinder Doll I gave my niece for her first Christmas in 2012. I called her Ruby but she now goes by 'Dolly'.

Dolly already had a top made in the same white broderie fabric so the matching shorts were quick and easy. The dress took quite a bit of time because I wanted to make similar sleeves and end up with something that was close in appearance to the big dress. It was fiddly but fun.

My nieces parents skyped us on Christmas Day and saved the gift to open while we were online (which was such a thoughtful thing to do).
She put the dress on straight away, found Dolly and dressed her as well and then went and posed in front of the mirror. The rest of the clothes got modelled as well and although the size 3 was too big it was fun watching her play.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

KTB - Rainbow Dropstitch Scarf

Project - Easy Dropstitch Scarf
Started - August 2013
Finished - August 2014
Gifted - September 2014

The Easy Dropstitch Scarf pattern is a free download from Ravelry.
It is an easy pattern for a beginner that gives a result that looks far more complicated than it really is, but I recommend using a thicker yarn than I did. Use something slippery for the best result.

I used Opel Sockenwolle - sock yarn and 4.5mm needles.
I picked the pattern because I wanted something easy but lacy.
I picked the yarn because it was in the stash.

The scarf took far longer to make than I ever intended partly because the yarn was so fine, partly because I kept putting it down, partly because I got sick of it half-way through.

I pulled it out again in winter and got it finished and blocked in time to send it to my sister for her birthday. She lives in the coldest place in the country so scarves don't go to waste. I did take some post-blocking photos but can't find them, so this work-in-progress shot is the best I can do.

Monday, December 29, 2014

KTB - New Look 6429 Mock-wrap Dress

Project - New Look 6429 view D. Knit dress with mock wrap detail.
Started - Who knows? Probably about 4 years ago.
Finished - 28 December 2014

This dress has been sitting in the sewing cupboard for years. It needed the hem to be unpicked, reshaped and resewn, dangling threads removed and floppy facings fixed.

The fabric is a really stretchy jersey knit I picked up on special but is really too stretchy to hold the shape of the dress well. A firmer knit would hold the design lines much more effectively. The fabric pattern was difficult to match and you can see that it is printed off-grain, so the front panel looks like it is hanging skewed.

I remember that I got most of the dress put together in a day or two but wasn't happy with the fit so shelved it.
I remember pulling it out again and adjusting the wrap front and sewing the hem, only to put it on and be dismayed to find the back hem had a big dip at the centre back and the skirt was too clingy and revealing over my stomach and hips. I stashed it away to deal with later.

This week, seeing as the sewing machines were out, the room was tidy and I was on a bit of a roll, I decided to pull it out and finish it off once and for all.

I figured out that the droopy hem was because I had lengthened the back bodice but forgotten to remove the same amount of length from the back skirt. Over-locking before folding up a hem wasn't the greatest idea on this fabric either. I unpicked the zig-zag hem, lay it out flat and trimmed the entire hem using the rotary cutter. I pinned them hem up, pressed well and then stitched in place with a twin needle.

The facings didn't sit well (an issue with everyone who has reviewed this pattern) so I trimmed them back to the edge of the top-stitching, creating more of a bound edge.

All in all, the dress isn't a disaster. it is light and comfortable to wear, so may become a round-the-house dress.

I don't like the cling across my stomach but that is more about accepting my body shape than a design fault with the pattern.

I love the back - the v-shaped waist line sits perfectly. I'm wondering if I can combine the back design with a more fitted front bodice?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Rainy Holiday sewing - knit dress

Project - New Look 6280 View A - knit dress with 'V' neck and bust gathers
Started - 27 December 2014
Finished - 28 December 2014

I purchased this fabric and pattern in November just before my quilt weekend, intending to get it started - at least cut out and ready to sew. As usual I took far too much with me and this didn't even get a look in.

Post Christmas, with an empty, tidy house and a grey rainy day, what else is there to do but pull it out and sew while the boys are flaked out in front of the TV?

The fabric is a fairly firm knit with one-way stretch. It isn't the colour I would normally wear but fine for trying out the pattern to see if it fitted and if I liked it.

The lining was a stretchy jersey. All up, the fabric I used cost around $17 and the pattern was $6.

I've been looking for summer dresses for a while, but everything I try on is either shapeless or far too small in the bust. I bought this pattern hoping I could adjust it for a custom fit.
I tried out a Full Bust Adjustment using this tutorial from 'Gertie's New Blog for Better Sewing'.
I used my high bust measurement and the finished garment dimensions from the pattern tissue to select the size to use.

My full bust measurement is 8cm larger than my high bust so I needed to add 4cm width and length to each side of the bodice. This would have been easier if the shoulder line and bust apex were marked on the pattern.

I guessed and ended up too full through the high bust. I could probably get away with a smaller increase but it is lovely to put on something that doesn't pull over the bust and that has an under-bust seam that sits exactly where it should.

I made view A from the pattern but altered the front bodice to have a vertical centre seam rather than a cross-over neckline, as there was enough bulk from the gathers under the bust. I should have dropped the neckline lower as it ended up higher than I wanted.

I sewed the bodice pieces with a smaller seam allowance (by mistake) so the straps ended up too wide and the underarms too high. There was also some bagging on the centre bust seam caused by the incorrect seam allowance. I added a piece of elastic to the front bust seam to gather the excess fabric and pull the 'V' down a bit lower. I think I attached the straps a little too high, so it sits a bit strange over my back. Using the correct seam allowance and getting someone else to help place the straps correctly should fix all these issues on any future dresses.

I picked a size with less than the recommended ease around the hips, and when I make it again I will go bigger through the hips for a looser skirt, especially if I make a maxi version.

The result is a comfortable summer dress. I'll make more of these, but with the changes I mentioned above. I've already been scouting out fabrics online.

Merry Christmas - 2014

We were planning a quiet one at home yet managed to end up with 10 for Christmas day and 15 for Boxing day.

There was swimming and Nerf guns and bike riding and Skylanders and squabbles and cuddles.

There was wallaby watching and bird spotting and a friendly green tree frog watching us from the roof gutter.

There was an enormous turkey and an enormous black forest cake that each lasted at least three meals. There was cool gingerbread house that we didn't eat.

It was lovely to spend it with family and I hope yours was as wonderful as ours.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Reading in 2014 - Dirt Music

Dirt Music by Tim Winton

Dirt Music'Set in the dramatic landscape of Western Australia, "Dirt Music" is a love story about people stifled by grief and regret; a novel about the odds of breaking with the past and about the lure of music. Dirt music, Fox tells Georgie, is "anything you can play on a verandah or porch, without electricity." Even in the wild, Luther cannot escape it. There is, he discovers, no silence in nature.

Ambitious, perfectly calibrated, "Dirt Music" resonates with suspense and supercharged emotion -- and it confirms Tim Winton's status as the preeminent Australian novelist of his generation.'
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tim Winton's writing is quite amazing. He can write a scene and have you there, smelling the salt-water, feeling the gritty sand in your clothes and the relentless heat of the sun, yet he does it with a masterful use of fairly sparse language. With Winton I never feel bogged down in pages of description of trees or light or landscapes (unlike Bryce Courtney as one example).

For me though, the plot and characters in this one were a bit underwhelming. I often wondered where the story was heading and was left scratching my head at the end with no resolution. It was a fairly convoluted tale with lots of side stories that were never explored or developed. The back stories of the main characters were heavily hinted at but never explained, and to be able to empathise or simply understand the relationships and actions of the characters you needed those back stories.

I was left unsatisfied with far too many 'Why?'s to be able to say this was a great book.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Reading in 2014 - The Language of flowers

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers
'The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love.
But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them.
An unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.'

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was another one of the books pulled off the shelf for me by our librarian when I begged for assistance with picking some decent books.
I enjoyed it.
I think the style seemed to change mid-book, from a drama (coming-of-age, rising-from-adversity, girl-conquers-terrible-childhood) to a more standard girl-meets-boy-and-eventually-get-it-together-after-overcoming-obstacles/misunderstandings/sheer-pigheadedness-with-a-not-so-subtle-twist romance.
But that's okay. It is chick-lit. It reads like a movie script - but the sort where they change the end when they actually make the movie. It won't change your life but it will give you a few pleasant hours of escapism. We all need that sometimes.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Reading in 2014 - Coal Creek

Coal Creek by Alex Miller

Coal Creek
'The new novel from Australia's highly acclaimed literary treasure is an extraordinarily powerful exploration of tragedy, betrayal, the true nature of friendship and the beauty of lasting love.

'Me and Ben had been mates since we was boys and if it come to it I knew I would have to be on his side.'

Miller's exquisite depictions of the country of the Queensland highlands form the background of this simply told but deeply significant novel of friendship, love, loyalty and the tragic consequences of misunderstanding and mistrust. Coal Creek is a wonderfully satisfying novel with a gratifying resolution. It carries all the wisdom and emotional depth we have come to expect from Miller's richly evocative novels.'

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This was picked out for me by the local librarian when I was whinging about not being able to pick anything that appealed to me. It was handed over with the warning that some people find the language and style a little hard to get into - but this was far from the case for me.

This reads as a memoir with a unique style and rhythm - the rhythm of the man and the rhythm of the land. It is sparse and measured and has the ring of truth to it. The only disappointing thing about this book is coming back to yourself at the end of it and remembering that it is a work of fiction not an actual autobiography.

It isn't a light read but it isn't very demanding either. Beautifully written and carefully crafted by an author that I will seek out again.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Reading in 2014 - Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2)'An epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted readers of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

King says he wanted to know what happened to Danny Torrance, the boy at the heart of The Shining, after his terrible experience in the Overlook Hotel. The instantly riveting Doctor Sleep picks up the story of the now middle-aged Dan, working at a hospice in rural New Hampshire, and the very special 12-year old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.'

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought this while on holidays and then kept getting cranky with the family for expecting me to put it down and spend time with them (the things we do for the ones we love...!).

I must be the only person in the world that has read this but not read The Shining (or watched the movie) but that really didn't matter. In fact, the trips down memory lane may possibly get annoying if you had read it fairly recently.

I enjoyed it. It is classic Stephen King. Entertaining, a bit gruesome, a bit creepy, enough going on to keep me turning the pages but also simple enough to dip in and out of holiday-reading-style without losing track of the plot or the characters.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reading in 2014 - Ella Minnow Pea

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea
'Nevin Nollop left the islanders of Nollop with the treasured legacy of his pangram the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. But as the letters begin to crumble on the monumental inscription, the island's council forbids the use of the lost letters and silence threatens Ella and her family.'

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a clever little book. While it is a short and easy read it does require a bit of effort on the part of the  reader.

It is written as a series of letters between the various characters as their isolated community crumbles. The characters are forbidden from using certain letters of the alphabet and as each letter is removed in turn from the language, it also disappears from the pages of the book. I found myself scanning the pages looking for forbidden text on many occasions - I am in awe of the author for putting this tale together and sticking to the self-imposed rules.

While it seems to be a fairly outlandish and far-fetched tale, I found it to be an interesting depiction of how a thriving, democratic society can loose their freedom seemingly overnight. The rapid demise of Nollop actually occurs after a long period in which social apathy, neglect, greed and corruption have eroded social infrastructure, the rights of the individual and the strength of the community and a position of absolute, uncontested power has been achieved by the elected Council. Throw in an unhealthy dose of Nollopian fundamentalism and the stage has been set for simple event to tip the society into totalitarian tyranny.

There are plenty of places in the world today where people face torture, exile or execution for transgressions that seem just as trivial to us as the accidental use of a forbidden letter of the alphabet. These are the people that are seeking refuge on our shores and across the globe. Unfortunately the only place where a 32-letter phrase will bring peace is Nollop - in the pages of this book.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Reading in 2014 - The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans
'This is a story of right and wrong, and how sometimes they look the same ...

1926. Tom Sherbourne is a young lighthouse keeper on a remote island off Western Australia. The only inhabitants of Janus Rock, he and his wife Isabel live a quiet life, cocooned from the rest of the world.

One April morning a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying infant - and the path of the couple's lives hits an unthinkable crossroads.

Only years later do they discover the devastating consequences of the decision they made that day - as the baby's real story unfolds ...'

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Disappointed. I was so looking forward to reading this. This promised to be the style of book I really enjoy. But.

The author spends much of the first part of the book explaining Tom, presumably as background for the events we know are coming. He is a man emotionally damaged by war, bewildered by the break-up of his parents relationship and deeply wounded by the absence of his mother, raised by a father who didn’t talk and was unable or unwilling to show affection, yet a man who is still apparently ‘good’ and ‘moral’ and able to put other people first. He seeks the isolation of the Lights to give him the time and space to deal with his mental anguish and finds solace in a regimented life, governed by strict regulations and unchanging routine. It is clear from the description of his first day alone on Janus Island that he is a man struggling with severe mental disturbance. Despite all this build up I feel that the true implications of his emotional and mental problems are never examined. Throughout the book I feel that he is being characterised as a man with integrity and dignity, a likable, agreeable soul who puts the whims of his wife first and compromises himself to keep her happy and to eventually protect her from the nasty policemen. Seriously? Why put so much work into defining Tom to then back off and let him be the ‘nice’ guy?

In contrast there is very little of substance to explain Isabel and her part in the events of the story. We met her briefly. A young, pretty, vivacious girl who has led a sheltered life in a very small community. She is playful and talkative, enjoys company and is bored by her quiet, isolated existence. She has never been anywhere or seen anything of the world. She longs for adventure and romance. In her ‘Swiss cheese’ town the population of eligible young men has been decimated due to the war and Isabel throws herself headlong into a relationship with the first interesting stranger who crosses her path. There is mention of the loss of her brothers in the war and the way her parents reacted – withdrawing into themselves, leaving Isabel even more isolated and longing for affection and to be able to ‘get her parents to smile again’ - but the impact of this on Isabel’s psyche is never explored. Her parents allow their only remaining child to marry this stranger and let her disappear to her island. She and her new husband find joy with each other until she has a miscarriage. Tom makes her happy again by getting the piano fixed and then we suddenly fast forward five years to find a couple still apparently in love, dealing with the loss of a third child when suddenly a living baby appears on their island and they end up keeping her and passing her off as their own. And from there on everything proceeds in a rather civilised manner, the only conflict being between Tom and his conscience as he acquiesces to his wife’s wishes. And this is where it lost me.

Those five unexplained, unmentioned years are the meat in the sandwich, the whole bones of the story. We have a vibrant young girl with stars in her eyes who will wake up one day and find herself on a rock in the middle of the ocean, alone except for a man who doesn’t talk. To be married to a man who doesn’t talk is hard enough for a women with neighbours on every side, with friends and family only a phone-call away, with a job that takes her out of her environment and children that fill the silence. To be alone with only three-monthly visits from two men on a supply ship to break the isolation and provide information, conversation, diversion – the toll on the spirit of a young woman would be immense. Once the glow of early love, lust and infatuation had worn off it wouldn’t take long before the rationed words and immeasurable silences would begin to breed resentment, loathing, anger. Surely the internal voices would begin to clamour to fill the silence?

The horrific first miscarriage is discussed from Tom’s point of view but never from Isabel’s. Screaming in the dark for a husband who is too full of his own woes to notice. We know that the aftermath is bad – why else the visit of the piano repairer? The three-monthly boat may bring letters and gifts from distant parents, but although a piano man could make the voyage those same parents never once visit their only child, and the loving husband never thinks to call on them, to alert them to the distress and depression of his beautiful young wife. Or is he too much of a coward to risk her temper by calling for the help she so clearly needs? We have only one paragraph to know that she has a temper. Is it from grief alone or is it a much bigger part of her that will actually shape the outcome of the story?

And then we have another miscarriage and then a still-birth.

At this point, at the beginning of Part II, I believe Isabel would be dancing along the edge of insanity. Surely a girl who writes quirky letters to a barely-met lighthouse keeper would also be the sort of girl who would keep a journal, would find solace in conversations with herself, the conversations she can never have with her husband? Where are they, these conversations? Where is the record of her life in these dark days? How does she feel about the man to whom she gave her youth? Does she punish him by withdrawing physical affection? Does she fly into rages, vocalising her anger and discontent? Does she sink into silence, changing her habits to spend as little time in his company as possible?
Surely at this point in the story Tom should be consumed with fear for the safety of his wife, worried that the naming of ‘Izzy’s Cliff’ may have been an omen for what he fears may become her self-inflicted fate? He should be racked with guilt for taking his bright star away from her home and family, for being unable to give her the healthy child she so desperately wants, for his inability to find the words that would soothe her pain and bring her comfort. He should be a man worn out, beginning to let things slip in his duties as he tries to care for Isabel and manage the tasks she neglects in her depression – cooking, cleaning, gardening – living in fear that one day he will be unable to keep the light burning.

And now, with this understanding of Tom and Isabel, we may be able to comprehend why they make the choices they make over the next four or so years. We may be able to see why Tom is so easily manipulated into maintaining the lie. We see their lives return to the something akin to that promised by the early days of their marriage and observe them begin to find happiness and contentment as a family, yet we recognise the lie that poisons their paradise. We believe Isabel’s fear of being discovered, of losing not just her child but her whole identity and reason for living. We believe Tom’s fear of pushing Isabel back to the brink and his relief at having her bright, sunny self returned to him. We recognise Tom’s confession not as a selfless act of love and protection but as atonement for the guilt that has racked his soul for nearly a decade. We can identify the agony of the parents who should have been their for their daughter, who maybe could have prevented the disaster by being more present in her life, who struggle to deal with the aftermath as they nurse their daughter while her husband languishes in gaol.

But we don’t. Because none of that is there. Instead we have a story that skirts around the edges and never gets it’s hands dirty with the ins and outs of the relationship between the two main characters. And then we get an ending that ties it all up in a neat bow of forgiveness and promise for the future. And people turning up too late for reconciliation more than once in the same story. And a man that still gets to be the good guy.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Reading in 2014 - Breath

Breath by Tim Winton

20629592'On the wild, lonely coast of Western Australia, two thrillseeking and barely adolescent boys fall into the enigmatic thrall of veteran big-wave surfer Sando. Together they form an odd but elite trio. The grown man initiates the boys into a kind of Spartan ethos, a regimen of risk and challenge, where they test themselves in storm swells on remote and shark-infested reefs, pushing each other to the edges of endurance, courage, and sanity. But where is all this heading? Why is their mentor’s past such forbidden territory? And what can explain his American wife’s peculiar behavior? Venturing beyond all limits—in relationships, in physical challenge, and in sexual behavior—there is a point where oblivion is the only outcome. Full of Winton’s lyrical genius for conveying physical sensation, Breath is a rich and atmospheric coming-of-age tale from one of world literature’s finest storytellers'.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'Breath' reads like a memoir and it sucked me in so much I read till 3am just to get to the end. Once I clicked into the writing style (no quotation marks) I found myself really enjoying it, particularly the way Tim Winton can set a scene without wasting words. I had such clear images in my head as I read. It felt like home, even though I grew up in country NSW and the story is set in coastal WA. Those endless weeks of summer holidays, the freedom of setting off on your bike, the way the rest of the world was just on the periphery of your vision and you were the centre of the universe during those early teenage years. Tim Winton captures it perfectly.

There is a dark side here with risky behaviour and exploitation - but that is the whole premise of the story. It isn't really a book about surfing, rather it is about surviving into adulthood despite yourself, despite all those stupid things you did and despite the misplaced trust and admiration of people who should have known (and acted) better. It is about how becoming an adult really has little to do with age and lots to do with recognising your limits.

This is the first Tim Winton book I've read and I can confidently say I'll be visiting the 'WIN' shelf in the library again next time I'm there.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Reading Aloud in 2014 - The 13-Storey Treehouse

 The 13-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths

The 13-Storey Treehouse Who wouldn't want to live in a treehouse? Especially a 13-storey treehouse that has a bowling alley, a see-through swimming pool, a tank full of sharks, a library full of comics, a secret underground laboratory, a games room, self-making beds, vines you can swing on, a vegetable vaporiser and a marshmallow machine that follows you around and automatically shoots your favourite flavoured marshmallows into your mouth whenever it discerns you're hungry.
Two new characters – Andy and Terry – live here, make books together, and have a series of completely nutty adventures. Because: ANYTHING can happen in a 13-storey treehouse.
This is a major new series from Andy and Terry- and it's the logical evolution of all their previous books. There are echoes of the Just stories in the Andy and Terry friendship, the breakaway stories in the Bad Book (the Adventures of Super Finger), there's the easy readability of the Cat on the Mat and the Big Fat Cow, and like all these books, the illustrations are as much a part of the story as the story itself.

  My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review by Jack, age 6.5

It was excellent, it was very, very, very good.

It was awesome because it had man-eating sharks and a shark nearly ate Terry. Terry accidently threw Andy's head in the bowling alley. After they ate too many marshmallows they drank too much lemonade from the lemonade fountain.
Their treehouse is awesome because it looked small from the outside but is big on the inside. There was a gorilla and a yellow canary cat with a whole army of yellow canary cats who saved Andy and Terry. They took away the gorilla to a dinosaur island. Terry painted a cat yellow like a yellow canary.
The pictures are really, really, really cool.
Boys and girls should read this book because it is very interesting and very, very cool and awesome.
That's all folks!

Review by Mum, age none-of-your-business

Anything combining the joint talents of Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton is going to be superb. Andy's writing is a pleasure to read aloud with a deceptively simple style that is never condescending, extremely visual and uses a vocabulary that doesn't require stopping frequently to explain words or phrases. Terry's illustrations complement and enhance the text perfectly, and are chock full of unexpected details.

My favourite part of the book was the illustrations of the pages - pages within pages - especially the one that has a page within a page within a page.... (pg 228). We had made a movie like this several days before reading this book, so it was of particular interest to both of us.

To get the most out of this book find a kid aged between 5 and 10, share it aloud and be prepared to giggle. We are off to find the next book in the series.

Reading Aloud in 2014

I've been reading aloud to my son since the day he was born. I've always loved sharing precious books from my own childhood but the beauty of having a child who loves reading and being read to is that we can discover new authors together and it gives me a wonderful excuse to indulge myself with some fabulous children's fiction.

I loved it when my parents or teachers would read 'chapter books' aloud. There is a perverse, exquisite pleasure in having to wait for the next reading session to find out what happens next. I've always loved our bedtime story routine but now we are sharing chapter books I find that often I am looking forward to the story just as much as he is. It isn't hard to twist my arm for 'just one more chapter pleeaasseee...'

It can be difficult to select quality reading material for kids once they move on from picture books as they are harder to vet without reading the whole book yourself. There are plenty of books that appeal to kids of a certain age (often game, movie or tv spin-offs) but they are just not very well written and are very difficult to read aloud. I've been looking at book reviews on Goodreads but find that often reviews of kids books are written by adults who seem to miss the point that children's books are actually written specifically for kids.

I thought it might be fun for us to review some books together, as we read our way through our ever-expanding library. I have promised to faithfully type his reviews exactly in his own words without any fussy-mummy editing.

I'd love to see reviews of other books for shared reading so join in, link to your blog in the comments on this post and share some of your favourites for reading aloud.

Reading in 2014 - Second Chances

Second Chances by Charity Norman

Second Chances
'In the quiet of a New Zealand winter's night, a rescue helicopter is sent to airlift a five-year-old boy with severe internal injuries. He's fallen from the upstairs veranda of an isolated farmhouse, and his condition is critical. At first, Finn's fall looks like a horrible accident; after all, he's prone to sleepwalking. Only his frantic mother, Martha McNamara, knows how it happened. And she isn't telling. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Tragedy isn't what the McNamara family expected when they moved to New Zealand. For Martha, it was an escape. For her artist husband Kit, it was a dream. For their small twin boys, it was an adventure. For sixteen-year-old Sacha, it was the start of a nightmare.
They end up on the isolated east coast of the North Island, seemingly in the middle of a New Zealand tourism campaign. But their peaceful idyll is soon shattered as the choices Sacha makes lead the family down a path which threatens to destroy them all.

Martha finds herself facing a series of impossible decisions, each with devastating consequences for her family.'

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only reason I couldn't give this one 5 stars is simply because it is a very traumatic read.
Upon finishing it I had to sneak into my child's room and sit there stroking his hair while he slept. How on earth do you keep your child safe? If everything does fall apart then how on earth do you manage your own reactions?

The writing is superb. I read the whole thing in one day but was up to 2.30am to do it. You will immediately want to visit New Zealand to see if it lives up to the promises of the book (it does). There are layers upon layers and the characters are so very real. There are so many families living this exact story every day. I pray that I am never one of them.

Comparisons to Jodie Picoult are inevitable and the themes are very similar to Picoult's The Tenth Circle but Charity Norman does not have the religious tones of Picoult's work and based on this one novel I believe Norman is a stronger writer.I am interested to read more of her work but will wait for this one to fade first.

Read it with tissues handy and only if you are in a positive state of mind as it will linger long after closing the cover on the last page.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Reading in 2014 - The Shadow Year

The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell

The Shadow Year'On a sultry summer’s day in 1980, five friends stumble upon an abandoned lakeside cottage hidden deep in the English countryside. For Kat and her friends, it offers an escape; a chance to drop out for a while, with lazy summer days by the lake and intimate winter evenings around the fire. But as the seasons change, tensions begin to rise and when an unexpected visitor appears at their door, nothing will be the same again.
Three decades later, Lila arrives at the same remote cottage. With her marriage in crisis, she finds solace in renovating the tumbledown house. Little by little she wonders about the previous inhabitants. How did they manage in such isolation? Why did they leave in such a hurry, with their belongings still strewn about? Most disturbing of all, why can't she shake the feeling that someone might be watching her?
The Shadow Year is a story of secrets, tragedy, lies and betrayal. It’s a tale that explores the light and dark of human relationships and the potential the past has to not only touch our present, but also to alter our future.'

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I read this in three sittings - but would have read the whole thing cover-to-cover if I had the time.
The beginning was a bit confusing, but you quickly adjust to the chapters jumping between the two characters and their respective 'presents' - one in past and one now.

This is the sort of story I seem to have a clear preference for - a study of relationships and interactions between people, how their personalities or flaws influence their actions and how their choices and actions have consequences that echo long after the event.

You sometimes see comments about 'a carefully woven tale' and that is an extremely apt description of this book. Hannah Richell has taken great care in sequencing this story, revealing the characters and plot in a well crafted manner. She teases you right up to the very last page and leaves you somewhat exhausted but satisfied. If you respect the work of Gillian Flynn then you should enjoy this.

This is her second book and I will seek out her first and keep an eye out for any new works.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Reading in 2014 - Plastic

Plastic by Christopher Fowler

Plastic'June Cryer is a shopaholic suburban housewife trapped in a lousy marriage. After discovering her husband’s infidelity with her flight attendant neighbour, Hilary ‘Boarding From The Rear’ Cooper, she loses her home, her husband and her credit rating. • Then her best pal Lou offers a solution; a mutual friend needs someone reliable to act as caretaker in a spectacular London high-rise apartment. It’s just for the weekend, but there’s good money in it… Seizing the opportunity to escape, June moves into the penthouse only to find that there’s no electricity and the phones don’t work. She must flat-sit until the security system comes back on. When a terrified girl breaks into the flat and June makes the mistake of asking the neighbours for help, she finds herself embroiled in an escalating nightmare, trying to prove that a murderer exists. Over the next 24 hours she must survive on the streets without friends or money, solve an impossible crime, and fight off the urge to buy a new wardrobe.'

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't know how to rate this and wasn't sure if it was a 3 or a 4 star read.

This is my first Christopher Fowler book and I picked it up off the 'New books' stand at the local library because the blurb on the back was interesting.

It is a crime thriller but I guess it is also poking fun at the genre in some ways, with a clever take on character and plot. I thought it was a bit far fetched - but then no more so than many of the political thrillers I've read that make you wonder about the dark side of life portrayed in these stories and question the reality of your own sheltered, comfortable life. Or is that just me?

The plot does get a little confusing and I had to go back and re-read chapter one after I finished, just to get things straight in my mind.

I enjoyed it and there are some rather pithy observations of relationships and how people compensate for dissatisfaction with their lives by engaging in self-destructive behaviour rather than fixing the problem. It is also a story about coming-of-age or self-actualisation with a lead character who realises that she has been existing in a vacuum of her own making, rather than living. Hell of a way to make that discovery though!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Reading in 2014 - The Last Runaway

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier 

The Last Runaway'The stunning new novel from the bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Honor Bright is a sheltered Quaker who has rarely ventured out of 1850s Dorset when she impulsively emigrates to America. Opposed to the slavery that defines and divides the country, she finds her principles tested to the limit when a runaway slave appears at the farm of her new family. In this tough, unsentimental place, where whisky bottles sit alongside quilts, Honor befriends two spirited women who will teach her how to turn ideas into actions.'

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tracy Chevalier's books are easy and pleasurable to read, and this one is no exception. Her topics and settings are wide ranging and this novel is set in 1850s America after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law, the time when the abolitionist movement was gaining support leading to the Civil War.

Chevalier's books are well researched and she generously shares her sources and in the 'Author's Note' provides an interesting summary of the historical facts that form the basis of her novel. I read this book cover-to-cover in one day but after reading the notes at the end of the book I want to go back and re-read it with a little more care and also seek out some of the sources she has listed to find out more about this period in American history. Having little knowledge of the geography of the USA it was useful to be able to reference the map provided at the start of the book from time to time.

I also enjoyed 'Remarkable Creatures' and 'Girl with a Pearl Earring'.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Reading in 2014 - The Signature of All Things

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things'5th January 1800. Alma Whittaker is born into a perfect Philadelphia winter. Her father, Henry Whittaker, is a bold and charismatic botanical explorer whose vast fortune belies his lowly beginnings as a vagrant in Sir Joseph Banks' Kew Gardens and as a deck hand on Captain Cook's HMS Resolution. Alma’s mother, a strict woman from an esteemed Dutch family, is conversant in five living languages (and two dead ones). An independent girl with a thirst for knowledge, it is not long before Alma comes into her own within the world of botany. But as Alma’s careful studies of moss take her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, the man she comes to love draws her in the opposite direction.
The Signature of All Things is a big novel, about a big century. It soars across the globe from London to Tasmania, to Philadelphia, to Tahiti, to Amsterdam. Peopled with extraordinary characters – missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses and the quite mad – most of all it has an unforgettable heroine in Alma Whittaker, a woman of the Enlightened Age who stands defiantly on the cusp of the modern.'

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you know much about the life and work of Charles Darwin you will recognise the echoes in the story of Alma. The seemingly aimless and self-absorbed years of study of moss, the moment of insanity that gelled the millions of observations together into a hypothesis and then the years of focused study to gather the specific evidence to support a theory (that would become known as Evolution),the fear of publication without being sure that the theory was absolutely watertight and the shock at finding that someone else had reached the same conclusions. All this mirrors Darwin - Alma studied moss, Darwin looked to barnacles. Much of the first half or two-thirds of the book explores the religious and political barriers to scientific discovery and also to societal change of any kind in the era(this is the story of Prudence). Alma's time in Tahiti is a vehicle for exploring, developing and coming to terms with her own religious philosophy, opening her mind for the discoveries to come. This reflects the journey of the scientific community in general as 'natural philosophers' disappeared and 'scientists' emerged, shedding the reins of the church and embracing discoveries that threatened the social order of the western world.

The story of Henry Whittaker is one that was quite common for the time. An illiterate pauper who is smart enough to make the most of every opportunity, a mind for business and a knack for making connections. He lived in a time where anyone with enough money and enough interest could become an expert in so many different fields. He made himself aware of all the latest advances in technology and science from around the globe. His modern-day equivalent would be Richard Branson. In Henry's youth the world is a small place, one he is able to conquer and control. In adulthood he is a master of all, able to keep pace with the social changes, his finger on the pulse of the business and scientific communities. Henry's decline in old age is the inverse of the world around him and he laments the loss of his mastery and the dizzying rate of change and discovery going on around him. I wonder what he would make of the internet?

At times in the novel it feels like there is too much going on, too many competing stories, too many narratives that aren't explored in enough detail. However that is the reality of the age. The 1800s were an exciting time - a bit like human teenage years - full of exploration, pushing boundaries and testing limits. There are so many side stories that could easily take off and become novels of their own but the key to this book is in the title - The Signature of All Things - the multitude of small discoveries that led to what we now know as the Theory of Evolution. The book is long and twisting and convoluted because that is the story of those discoveries.

I really enjoyed this book and think I would like to re-read it sometime in the future. I've been considering On the Origin of Species for some time but now I have had the push I need to find a copy and fully acquaint myself with Darwin's own words.
If you have never read anything of substance about the work and life of Charles Darwin I highly recommend Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His life and ideas by Kristan Lawson. Despite the title it is not a childish book and it is a fabulous summary of his life, his work, the society of the time and the influences that shaped him. If you read only one book about Darwin then consider this one. It will certainly help you understand the themes of Signature more clearly.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

KTB - Portfolio dress

Project: Voile Lisette Portfolio Dress
Started: November or December 2012?
Finished: 27 January 2014

A while ago the Lisette Portfolio dress was popping up every where in blog-land. I took one look at the design and went 'Nah - not for me'. Gathers over the bust, no hip, bust or waist shaping. I just thought it would look like a sack on me.
Later I saw a few versions that really appealed so I got the pattern and then it sat, and sat and sat.
Last summer I had a long break and was looking for some light summer dresses that would double as work wear. I had some voile (or lawn...something like that) and thought I could try a wearable muslin.
Matching the patterns required a lot of careful measuring and pinning before I even cut the fabric.
I got it all cut out, got the front together and fussed around with fancy top stitching that disappeared into the print. I got the back together and pin basted the dress together for fitting. That is as far as I got.
I didn't like it and debated cutting it into a skirt. I made up a skirt in a similar weight fabric to check sizing for a yoke, but cut a size too small.
Gave up, shoved it all in a bag and put it on a shelf.

Fast-forward a year and I had a free evening and wanted something quick and easy to play with and found this on the shelf. I sewed the front and back together, tried it on and was happy enough with the fit so decide to finish it off and see how it went.
In a few hours over two nights I got it finished.
The fit at the front is fine and I love the pockets although they disappear into the busy fabric, and I'm still not fussed over the gathers. The back was a bit sack-like so I added some darts to shape it to my waist.
The colour of the fabric combined with the loose, A-line style remind me of a school uniform.
The fabric has a bit of cross-grain stretch so it is comfortable to wear and it is nice and light.
It is hanging in the wardrobe at the moment and I'll wear it some time this week to decide if I keep it or donate it.

Friday, January 31, 2014

2014 Reading Challenge - 5 from Forever


Rachel has thrown down a new reading challenge for the new year. This time it is about all those books you want to read 'someday', that have been on your list 'forever'. Pick 5 of them and read them.

My 2014 Reading Challenge list:
  1. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, 1859
  2. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852
  3. 1984 by George Orwell, 1950
  4. Utopia by Thomas More, 1516
  5. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, 1947
All of them are classic and they are often referenced and quoted but it is impossible to talk intelligently about them if you have never read them.
A beautiful illustrated edition of On the Origin of Species is sitting right beside me as I type. I've started reading it but anticipate that it will be some time before it is finished.
Get more details on the challenge on the Little WhiteDove blog and you can also have a nosey at what everyone else has on their 'Forever' list.

KTB - Chinook Scarf

Project: Chinook Scarf
Started: July 2011
Completed: 28 Dec 2013
Gifted: January 2014

Sometimes you start a project to learn a new skill and when the results are less than spectacular you shelve it and move on to something else. Sometimes you have even finished it and it just needs a little bit of special treatment to bring it up to standard but you aren't quite sure how to do it, so into the UFO pile it goes.

This was my first lace knitting project and it was complete apart from weaving in the ends, but I was unhappy with it and shoved it away while I decided what to do with it. I had pretty much made up my mind to unravel it and use the yarn for something else but my sister-in-law (a fabulous knitter) convinced me to block it first to see if it opened up the lace pattern.

Wow! So glad I did. Washing and blocking softened up the yarn, opened up the lace and really made a difference to this scarf. I loved it!

The pattern is a Ravelry  download - the Chinook Scarf by Ali Green. I used Sean Sheep 'Stirling' 100% wool from Big W and the colour is called Madeira Rose. After blocking it measured 172cm by 39cm (at the widest point), long enough to wear as a scarf or as a shawlette over the shoulders. The lace pattern was simple enough and the knitting was fairly quick. I'd make this one again.

I have very little need for warm, pretty scarves and shawls here in Queensland so I packed it up and sent it off to a different sister-in-law in New Zealand. It arrived in the second week of January - just in time for a big dump of snow and ridiculously low temperatures right in the middle of summer.

 It feels so good to complete something and to be happy with the result. Makes me want to go cast on a new project - but I won't. ;)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

2014 Kick the Bucket WIP Challenge

2014 Kick the Bucket WIP challenge

AJ is hosting another challenge to help encourage us to clear out the stash and finish off some of those projects that have been cluttering up the craft room and our minds for far too long.

Follow this link 2014 Kick the Bucket WIP Challenge to find out the details, join the linky and maybe finish some of your own works-in-progress that haven't progressed far enough.

I've got a WIP list inside my crafty cupboard that I wrote out a few years ago that has sadly increased in length instead of encouraging project completion. Rather than wasting time doing it again I thought I would make my list of just a few projects I really want to complete this year.

My 2014 Bucket List:

1. Batik Quilt. This has been in progress for years and I am really looking forward to getting it on a bed.

2. Drop-stitch scarf. Started sometime last year, so not an old one, but I'm past the halfway mark and I'm really looking forward to blocking it and seeing how it turns out.

3. Lady Kina cardigan. Well over a year-in-progress, and over the half-way mark. I love the colour of this yarn and really want this off the needles and in the wardrobe.

So those are my three must-do for the year and if I get all three completed I will be very happy!
I do have plenty of others, and I've even completed two long-standing WIPs in the last few weeks.
Such a good feeling to complete something - hopefully I can do it far more frequently this year.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

December 2013 - Christmas Canvas Swap

One of the girls in my quilting group inspired several of us to begin collecting art supplies and do a bit of dabbling with multi-media art. We have formed a little off-shoot group (like any of us really need more hobbies!) and catch up every few weeks for some messy art play.

We had our first canvas swap - mostly as a way to get some of us to actually create something with all those supplies we have been accumulating. It was a Christmas themed canvas lucky-dip swap and we ended up with six people participating. Here they all are, lined up for the swap. It is amazing how different they all are.

I got to take home the lovely little Shepherd Canvas made by Rachel. If you click on that link you can go straight to her blog post and read about the thought behind this artwork, and also see a much better photo. He came home with me and took up residence on our mantelpiece among the Christmas decorations until the start of January. He has now moved into my sewing room where he is waiting patiently for his own space on the wall. Jack was very taken with it, running his fingers over it and wanting to know how Rachel made the shepherd stand out from the background - there is a lot of texture in this piece. In the end he decided 'she must be a shepherd-maker' and we settled down to have a bit of fun making up stories about what happened to the sheep.

I made the purple ballerina. She was going to be an angel or Christmas fairy, but the idea sort of morphed into this as I worked on it.
I love the background. I used scrunched up glad wrap over wet acrylic paint to get some depth and movement. I also used purple and silver Inka Gold paint, Perfect Pearls silver metallic powder and Opal Dust iridescent glitter paint to get lots of glimmer happening.
The star is made from moulding paste applied through a stencil and then coloured with silver Viva Inka Gold metallic beeswax-based paint. It is highlighted with plastic gems in shades of purple.
The girl is collaged onto the canvas. Her outfit was made in several layers using scrapbook paper and scrunched tissue paper.
The lettering was traced onto tissue paper and then decoupaged onto the canvas, traced with silver paint pen and then outlined with black ink.

 This was a fun swap and I think everyone enjoyed pushing their boundaries and seeing where it took them. Hopefully there will be more arty swaps in the future.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

August 2013 - Bookweek Alien

August brings Book Week and that means dress-up time.This year's theme was 'Reading across the Universe' and the kids were encouraged to come to school dressed either in a space theme or as a favourite book character.

  Jack wanted to be an alien so we dug through the book shelves looking for alien books and found 'My Brilliant Book' which has three-eyed-aliens who attack earth.
We had an inflatable alien head and hand set in the cupboard, bought on sale some time ago with the thought it would come in handy sometime. As luck would have it the head was a three-eyed-alien.
We needed a body so used a tracksuit pattern to draft up a one-piece jumpsuit with back opening, similar to a skeleton costume he already had, and went shopping for some fantastic shiny green dance fabric.
I did the work on the costume while Jack was asleep - bad idea, as was the idea of joining a tracksuit top and bottom pattern together to draft a jumpsuit. I should have traced the costume he already had and just made it bigger. Instead I did something wrong and ended up with a jumpsuit that was far to narrow and far too long in the body.

To salvage it I shortened the sides and added width by adding a shaped insert to each side seam from just below the underarm to the hip, gathering the side seams to fit. Jack thought they were gills and apparently gills are awesome. I added a row of gathering along the centre seam from front neckline through the crotch to the back neckline, and then stitched the gathers in place. It worked but the gathers didn't hold in place very well and a strip of elastic would have been better.
Jack thought he was super cool and had a great day, even though several people thought he was a frog. As a bonus he got to wear the same costume to a Space dress-up night at Scouts two weeks later and won a prize.