review: Rock Gardening

Rock Gardening

Rock Gardening: Reimagining a classic style – gardens – techniques – plants by Joseph Tychonievich

Reducing water use is an increasingly popular topic as relates to gardening and landscaping. Though this author lives in Michigan, he traveled to a variety of locations in the United State and United Kingdom to explore rock gardens in a variety of climates. Many of these featured gardens are quite large and contain both rock and traditional gardens, but the focus here is on the former. Color photographs highlight both wide shots and close-ups of particular plantings. The second section focuses on techniques including constructing rock gardens in various styles, preparing and maintaining the soil, choosing containers, knowing your climate, and obtaining and propagating plants. The third and final portion of the book is a list of types and genii that are generally suited to rock gardens, such as cacti, campanulas, dianthus, sempervivums, and more. Several pages of description and color photographs are provided for each.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Genesee District Library through the MeLCat interlibrary loan system


review: Knits from the Heart of Norway

 photo kfthon_zpsbrt9pnxm.jpeg

Knits from the Heart of Norway: 30 sweaters, hats, socks, and mittens inspired by the Telemark Region by Irene Haugland

Scandinavian knitting has such a distinctive style and rich history and this book celebrates both. All of the designs are advanced in terms of colorwork (I’m not sure you could do justice to Norwegian knitting otherwise) but you do feel as though any of these items will become family heirlooms, so the effort put in is worth it for the gorgeous results. All designs are pictured in full color photos with close-up shots of specific details, and the photographs are taken out in nature in beautiful settings that only enhance the beauty of the knitwear.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Capital Area District Library through the MeLCat ILL system


quick project: jewelry drawer liner

I continue to grab brooches and other pieces of jewelry at rummage and yard sales and the drawer I’ve been keeping them in has been a big jumble.

Quilted drawer liner

You can see that there’s a wide variety of stuff in here and that it moves around every time I open the drawer, making it hard to see what I have and find specific things. I had the idea to make a quilted drawer liner to keep things more organized.

Quilted drawer liner

This is the simplest design – it’s just two pieces of fabric with one layer of cotton batting, sewn all around the edge and then turned right side out, and a double line of stitching around the edge (closing the gap through which I turned it, as well as providing a nice detail and some stability). I thought about quilting it more than this, but decided that this was good enough. As I was able to remove the drawer to do this, it was easy to measure and make the liner the exact size of the drawer.

Quilted drawer liner

While I was at it, I did some sorting and found a number of items to get rid of (including no fewer than 6 pairs of cheapo sunglasses that were either scratched or didn’t fit very well – all in the Goodwill basket now!) So here’s the drawer with everything laid out neatly on the liner. Isn’t that so pleasing?

Quilted drawer liner

And here’s the drawer in place, from my vantage point (I’m not super tall compared to this dresser, but I can easily see everything here). I still have other jewelry in drawer organizer unit (which does not fit into this dresser – it fit into a previous one we owned, so now it’s sitting on a shelf) holding earrings, chain necklaces, and some other assorted sundries, but these are the brooches, bracelets, rings, and necklaces that I’m looking for at a moment’s notice and/or are best stored laying out. I will admit I even found a few things during this sort that I had forgotten I owned!

1. measure your drawer
2. cut two pieces of fabric 1″ larger than the drawer’s measurement (1″ wider and 1″ longer)
3. cut one piece of cotton batting the same size as the fabric
4. place fabric pieces right sides together, and layer them on top of the cotton batting (doesn’t matter which way) so the three pieces are all lined up
5. sew around the perimeter with a 1/2″ seam allowance, leaving a 5″ gap on one side (or big enough to get your hand in)
6. trim the excess from the seam allowance except at the gap (especially be sure to trim around the corners)
7. reach in through the gap and turn right side out – you may wish to use a corner poker to get the corners turned out fully)
8. press well with the edges of the gap turned in tidily
9. stitch around the perimeter, being sure the gap is sealed – I used a longer stitch for a nice top-stitched look
10. stitch around the perimeter again an even distance from the first line of stitching


review: Of Cats and Men

Of Cats and Men

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen by Sam Kalda

Ever wondered about the love of cats held by some famous dudes? This book showcases 30 guys who love (or loved, as some are no longer living) cats. Lots of writers and artists are included, and for each a few paragraphs describe the part that cats played in their lives. Some cat-related quotes are highlighted, and portraits of each man also feature at least one cat. The illustrations are attractive, modern compositions that depict the subject in their milieu. All of these fellows are very well-known, most are white, and most are American, and I’m not sure that the world needs more books focused on this pretty narrow range of humanity, but the art is appealing.

full disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Blogging for Books


review: 501 Enchanting Embroidery Designs

501 Enchanting Embroidery Designs

501 Enchanting Embroidery Designs: Irresistible stitchables to brighten up your life by Boutique-sha

I’ve been hoping to do some more embroidery and this wealth of mini patterns will certainly provide fodder for my upcoming projects. A wide variety of embroidery designs are grouped into themes including cute cups, a cozy room, a tidy kitchen, a visit to the flea market, Scandinavian forest designs, adorable items from Eastern Europe, the music’s playing, I love fruit!, sweet things for girls, stripes and polka dots (which actually includes a lot of outdoor/park elements), Japanese celebrations, birds & flowers, tasty tea time, and lace patterns. These are followed by some cross stitch collections including Scandinavian style cross stitch, a cross stitch alphabet, cross stitch cats and dogs, continuous cross stitch patterns. Ideas for using these elements are part of full projects are then provided, including pouches, pin cushions, dishcloths, and more. A short how-to guide includes color photographs for the very basics like threading the needle. The second half of the book is printed in monotone on matte paper and provides somewhat bare-bones instructions for each of the patterns.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Capital Area District Library through the MeLCat ILL system


Firefly Cottage garden update

Whew! Time has gotten away from me a bit in terms of updating! I’ve been busy in the gardens, though, and we’re seeing new things blooming.

Firefly Cottage Panorama

Check out this panorama K. took! Pretty cool! Note that we live on a corner, so the two sidewalks on either side are actually perpendicular to one another. You can see that we’ve not had much rain lately by the state of the lawn – the parts where it gets green is where we have clover growing instead of grass. Someday the rest of the grass will be gone. You can also see that we have a lot of wee trees that are about 2′ tall – these are the fruit trees which I’ve pruned per Grow a Little Fruit Tree (and other sources). They’ll take some time to get larger but they should become lovely, manageable fruit trees that don’t take over a huge amount of space each. You can also see, to the right of the center walkway, the remains of the Burning Bush. I’ve been talking about getting rid of it and we finally did it. The city was doing a one-time-only brush chipping, so we took the branches off so they could get chipped with the lowest branches of the big conifer and the other branches we’ve gathered over the winter. After this photo was taken, we pulled out the root ball (thank goodness for the reciprocating saw! There were a couple of sizable roots that required it), which the chipping program would not take, and which is now drying out next to the garage until we figure out how to get rid of it.

Firefly Cottage views from upstairs #FireflyCottage

There’s the view from upstairs, where you can see the dirt circle where the Burning Bush was. You can also see that I finally started my dream of a hedge! There are three shrubs on each side of the front walkway: two on each side are Boxwood ‘Green Velvet’ and between those, Juniper ‘Grey Owl.’ I stopped out at Green Scene on Memorial Day weekend and got these along with a pretty-much perfect customer service experience. They don’t look like much at the moment, but we planted them spaced out to accommodate the size they will eventually be and they’ll take awhile to reach that size. Also barely visible in that photo are a bunch of seedlings growing on either side of the walkway. I scattered a bunch of seeds out there and they’re growing, but slowly. This year I sowed a bunch of things that should be shorter than last year’s monster Cosmos and Zinnias.

Firefly Cottage views from upstairs #FireflyCottage

Here’s some evidence of that lovely green clover! This was taken the same day as the photo above – you can really tell the difference in color between the clover compared with the grass.

Firefly Cottage gardens #FireflyCottage

You can see more clover on the far side of the walkways here – lots of blossoms mean we’re keeping the pollinators happy. The area surrounding the garage is also looking fairly decent.

Garage-surrounding garden

The Salvia ‘Lyrical Blues’ is looking gorgeous, and the Yarrow is about ready to bloom any day.


The Penstemon up against the garage is blooming and looks awesome.

This Spirea is trying to take over

This Spirea is out of control! I meant to move it before it bloomed this year but missed the window. It will have to be split pretty soon, though. Anyone want some?

House - surrounding garden

In the front, we have Blanket Flower, Nigella, Sweet William, and now the shrub rose is starting to bloom. There are some things in there that I’m pretty sure are weeds but I haven’t decided for sure yet.

Raised bed sprouts

The raised bed is also sprouting! I am doing a semi-decent job of remembering to turn the sprinkler on it, so here’s hoping that continues. I need to thin these, too. So things are going well so far! I’m hoping that we get the predicted rain this week.


review: Simple Matters

Simple Matters

Simple Matters: Living with less and ending up with more by Erin Boyle

Decluttering and simplifying are the name of the game these days – everyone wants to live without extra stuff in the way, taking up space and creating a mess. There’s definitely a sort of puritanical value to living minimally, and I’m not sure that it really follows (if you get rid of every spare thing, you end up rebuying stuff [IF you can afford to], and it seems like this cycle probably creates more waste than it saves – I also think that equating sparse living with goodness is along the same lines as thinking that if you only eat “clean” foods, your body will be superior – it’s all pretty classist). Despite all this, though, I do think that living with visual clutter isn’t great for one’s mental health, and we can all probably stand to be at least a little more organized. Boyle begins her introduction with a disclaimer that she hopes to avoid that privileged narrative and provides stories that she feels illustrate her modest start. Her perspective here comes from a desire to help others figure out how to be an adult – how to make choices that will make life easier and happier. Throughout the book, Boyle offers personal anecdotes that relate to each topic. The aesthetic here is natural, with lots of neutral colors and natural materials. DIY recipes for cleansers and tips for how to keep a tidy home with a minimum of equipment are also included.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from my local Chippewa River District Library system


review: Landscape and Garden Design Sketchbooks

Landscape and Garden Design Sketchbooks

Landscape and Garden Design Sketchbooks by Tim Richardson

This book contains sketches, landscape plans, and photos of 3D models of 37 gardens all over the world. A brief overview provides background about the garden and its planning process. The plans and sketches use a variety of media and are presented in relatively large format (the book is oversize) – it feels like an art book combined with a high-end designer’s sketchbook. It is gorgeous to look through and the only thing I wish it had included were photos of the completed gardens to compare with the designs. One bonus: this book is essentially a list of gardens that one might want to visit.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the James White Library at Andrews University through the MeLCat interlibrary loan system


review: Portrait Revolution

Portrait Revolution

Portrait Revolution: Inspiration from around the world for creating art in multiple mediums and style (with 450 portraits from the artists of Julia Kay’s portrait party) by Julia L. Kay

Author Julia Kay challenged herself to do a three-year project in which she made a self-portrait every day. At the close of those three years (in 2010), she started JKPP: Julia Kay’s Portrait Party, which she defines as “an international collaborative project in which artists all over the world make portraits of each other.” She created a flickr group (which now includes around 1000 members) and participants began making portraits of one another and the discussion and interaction became quite lively (this project started on flickr at a time when it was much easier to form communities there and in the years since, changes to the site have made it more difficult in my experience). Between 2010 and the creation of this book, artists from over 50 countries created and shared over 50,000 portraits, highlights of which are included here. Chapters arrange the portraits by media, by style, and by theme, and each portrait includes the title (first name and country of the subject), artist, media (physical and digital techniques are both included), original size, and a brief statement from the artist about the piece. The portraits are reproduced here in varying sizes, from just a couple inches square to an entire page (~9×7″). In some cases, a variety of portraits based on the same photograph are included, offering half a dozen or so interpretations. A separate chapter features a few portraits created by each of 15 artists with a paragraph or two of information each shared about their own style and process. The final chapter discusses things to think about and choices to make when creating portraits. A directory of artists, general index, and index of subjects are included.

full disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Blogging for Books


review: Simple Color Knitting

Simple Color Knitting

Simple Color Knitting: A complete how-to-knit-with-color workshop with 20 projects by Erika Knight

Working with beautiful, colorful yarn is one of the joys of knitting. Even a monochrome project can be gorgeous if the color is pleasing. The introductory sections of this book give background on color theory, various techniques for using colors, and a gallery of swatches illustrating different techniques. The projects then start with a monochrome throw, with the intent that the yarn color used will make a statement when juxtaposed with the furniture (of a different color) it will sit on. The following projects use phasing, stripes, color-based stitch patterns, and other techniques to create a sweater, pillows, mittens, throws, and more. The intense colors used and the quality of the photographs will provide inspiration as well.

full disclosure: I borrowed this book from the Capital Area District Library through the MeLCat ILL system