Pen to Thread: 750 hand-drawn embroidery designs to inspire your stitches by Sarah Watson
Watson, an illustrator and designer, has collected her favorite motifs to create using embroidery. Also included are instructions for getting started and basic embroidery techniques, illustrated with both color photographs and hand-drawn diagrams. These introductory and instructional sections are robust and well put-together and will be an asset for anyone learning (or improving their skills in) embroidery regardless of whether the motifs are to their taste. The motifs are grouped into categories: made in the USA, food, craft room, tools of the trade, school days, in the kitchen, in the garden, around the house, fun!, the great outdoors, by the sea, animals, plants, frames & borders, and alphabets. With more than 750 designs included, a wide variety of subject matter is covered. I know I often find myself wishing for a specific motif when working on a craft project, and I love to have so much variety in one source. Each set of color photographs of completed motifs is followed by one of black and white outlines for those designs and others not pictured in color. Specific instruction for each motif is not included – it is up to the reader to look at a design and determine which stitch is used where and in what order, and for the designs not pictured in color, up to the reader to make that part up themselves. The style of these motifs is sweet and not fussy. Includes a CD.
I have not done much with cut flowers. I love growing flowers in the garden, but I’ve usually just left them where they grow rather than cutting them to come inside. I do enjoy cut flowers in the house, though, so I’d like to be able to grow enough to have them inside without denuding the garden. This book starts from scratch with information about testing your soil and designing your garden. It then moves in to work by season, starting with spring including tasks, things that bloom in that season, and projects (mostly arrangements). For me, the best use of this book is as a guide to what blooms when and what combinations will look nice. I definitely want to keep adding things to our gardens so that we have blooms throughout the seasons and this will help me make a list of future additions.
I haven’t really explored the concept of aromatherapy before, but I definitely like to grow fragrant plants and find it satisfying to walk through the garden and smell them around me. This book starts off with some history of the use of fragrant plants and the basics of essential oils. Annoyingly there are a few comments that put me off, such as, “Primrose contains a trace of cinnamon scent, which is favored by men,” and “what women do not care for is the scent of cherry.” Really, though? Did you find some peer-reviewed data that prove this to be true? There are references to studies, but no specifics and I find these kind of generalities difficult to believe. This makes me skeptical of the other claims contained in this book, so I ended up using it as inspiration via the lovely color photos of plants and gardens and as a source for making a list of fragrant plants I might want to grow.
Shakespeare is already a romanticized figure, but thinking about his garden is, if possible, even more so. This book is lovely, with a sturdy cover that looks ready to age gracefully (like a book you’d find and know just by holding it that it contained valuable information) and thick pages with full-color illustrations from a variety of historical sources dating back to 1616. Strong explores the world of nature, the Victorian language of flowers, garden history, and more as relate to Shakespeare and his works. The combination of illustrations, highlighted quotes, and informative text create a nicely balanced work as easily read start to finish as flipped through casually. Also includes Francis Bacon’s ‘Of Gardens’ essay. Fully indexed and with a detailed list of illustration sources.
Patterns for six bowls, five boxes, and four vases are included, with a few variations as part of each pattern. They use stiff interfacing (as opposed to clever engineering) to provide the structure of each item, and rely heavily on satin stitch for the seams. This uniformity of construction means that the projects all look fairly similar (the bowls especially seem just barely distinguishable from one another). The boxes would make nice vessels for gifts, but the look of these projects is just not my aesthetic.
Making a swatch is often the first step in a knitting project (or it should be, technically, even if many knitters don’t do it regularly). Making a swatch will provide you with an example of your gauge (how many rows and stitches you get per inch) and let you see how the stitch pattern will look in that yarn on that needle size. It can save a huge amount of time and is super useful, even if it’s not as much fun as just diving in to the project you’re excited to make. This book takes the approach of having the beginning knitter practice and learn by making, essentially, a ton of swatches. You start out with garter stitch, then move to stockinette, then start learning decreases and increases, and so forth. There are 50 squares followed by five projects for the starting knitter, all of which are made using square pieces. This is a different approach to learning to knit than I’ve seen before, and I feel like encouraging swatch-making will only benefit the knitter in the long run.
Fix Your Garden: How to make small spaces into green oases by Jane Moseley & Jackie Strachan, illustrations by Claire Rollet
This cute book is designed as a guide to creating your garden, whether it be a big yard, balcony pots, or something in between (most of the information is written to an audience working with an in-ground garden plot, though). It starts with the basics and features homey illustrations throughout, providing inspiration and occasional chuckles (such as with adorable depictions of pests like ‘Mrs. Earwig’). The goal of creating a cottage garden is referenced several times and fits well with the design of the book. As this was published in the UK, resources listed are UK-based.
Doughty is an Australian quilt blogger, speaker, fabric designer, and so forth, and she traveled throughout Australia to photograph the quilts in this book. The resulting photos are gorgeous and though the background is often only just barely visible in the shot, the natural light and contrast of the backgrounds really works to showcase the lovely quilt work. Doughty espouses a slow approach to quilting, taking the time to hand piece and stitch and really appreciate the process. This doesn’t mean she skimps on the little things, though, as each one is highly detailed and the finished pieces have a harmonious blend of a lot of things going on. Familiar shapes and styles are found in each quilt, including log cabin, wedges, rings, octagons, and many more. Pattern pieces are included in a perforated section in the back.
I am super interested in attracting wildlife to our gardens. My milkweed patch is bigger than it was last year, which makes me super happy, and I’m definitely seeing a lot of pollinators and so far I’ve seen a monarch on two occasions! I feel like I have a lot of room to make our gardens even more welcoming, though, especially for non-bug wildlife. This book starts with three steps to create a wildlife-welcoming garden:
1. stop using pesticides
2. replace nonnative lawn with native plants
3. watch and enjoy
I’m all over all three of these! We already don’t use any pesticides and are working to replace the lawn with clover (and eventually more of it will be garden beds rather than clover, but it’s a process). Various types of insects are detailed here with a focus on the work they do in the garden. Fireflies, (AKA Lightning Bugs – which are beetles, so Lightning Bugs might actually be a less inaccurate name, but we’re still calling our house Firefly Cottage) for instance, are not only neat but are predators of soft-bodied larvae like slugs, snails, and worms. Not that we don’t want ANY of those in the garden, but they need to be kept in check. And I’d prefer to keep slugs to a minimum, which herps (short for herpetofauna: frogs and toads, speaking of which, did you know that toads are a type of frog? I didn’t!) can help with as well, as outlined here. I’d love to have a pond or something for amphibians to live in, but I really haven’t figured out a good way/place to do that yet. Maybe down the road! Birds are also big in this book and are another area I’d like to address more in our gardens. My future shrub hedge will provide a good place for some birds to nest but I wouldn’t mind providing some bird houses and/or nesting boxes as well. There’s even more information here about making habitats for bats, squirrels (we have no shortage of those!), and other creatures. This is a book I’ll for sure come back to as our gardens continue to develop.
I watched Outlander at the start of the series, but all the violence got to me and I had to give it up. The thing I liked best about it, though, was the costuming, so I was pretty excited to see this book. All those rich layers and textures and colors! The sixteen patterns here are either directly or notionally inspired by the clothing worn in the TV series, and the photos in the book were taken in the outdoors in places similar to the show locales. Some of the projects are more wearable for everyday than others (some feel a little bit costumey for me personally to feel like I could pull them off). Many use chunky yarns and several are exceedingly simple in terms of construction, so they should knit up very quickly. The many cowls, wraps, and arm warmers here will make lovely fall accessories.