Expanding my craft library

It’s getting harder to find decent second-hand bookshops in central London these days so we recently took a trip to Hay-on-Wye to satisfy our cravings.  I spent a fair amount of time rummaging through any craft books I could find and managed to pick up a few interesting additions to my library. I plan on writing fuller reviews once I’ve had the chance to read them more carefully and try some projects but here’s a quick look in the meantime.

Alabama Stitch Book, by Natalie Chanin with Stacie Stukin:

Alabama Stitch book

A collection of sewing projects for recycling and embellishing old t-shirts. I first heard of this book when the House on Hill Road blog reviewed the follow-up book Alabama Studio Style. Having now seen this book and the review of the second one at House on Hill Road, I think the projects in the second book are probably more to my taste but there are a couple of projects in here, including a skirt and corset top, that I do really want to try. All I need now are some t-shirts!

Designing Knitwear, Deborah Newton:

I’ve been getting more ambitious with my designing (I currently have a couple of lace shawls in progress) and my eventual ambition is to learn how to design clothing. I had seen this book recommended as a good guide to knitting design and, at a first glance, it certainly seems to cover everything you could want to know. In fact, at first glance, the sheer quantity of text and detail in this book is a little overwhelming. I think this is going to be a book that I sit down and read through rather than dipping in and out of. I’ll let you know how that goes later.

Second-hand craft books

520 Quick and Easy Patchwork Designs, Kei Kobayashi:

The concept behind this book is simple: using folded origami squares as the basis for quilt designs. Take your square of paper, fold your shape, unfold the paper and use the geometric pattern of crease lines as the basis for your quilt block. My quilting has yet to progress beyond simple patchwork blocks but there’s a wealth of inspiration in here for anyone from the absolute beginner to the expert looking for something new. There is a large section on traditional American quilt block patterns, as well as variations on geometric patterns and some Art Deco and computer graphic suggestions as well. It is a design book rather than a how-to-quilt book so if you’re looking for detailed guidance on quilting, piecing and finishing quilts, this isn’t the book for you but if you’re looking for inspiration, there’s plenty of it here.

Book review – Pattern Sourcebook: Japanese Style

A post-exam wander around the craft and design sections of the bookshops on Charing Cross Road today turned up a wonderful little volume entitled “Pattern Sourcebook: Japanese Style. 250 Patterns for Projects and Designs.” The book is a collection of Japanese pattern designs in nine different categories, including plants, creatures, geometry and, of course, waves.

Wave pattern

The book comes with a CD with JPEG and PSD versions of each of the patterns and, best of all, purchasing the book permits unrestricted use of any of the patterns for any purpose whatsoever without any further fees or need for acknowledgement or credit. Many of the patterns are set up so that they can be tiled in all directions.

Japanese cherry blossom pattern

There is a sentence or two accompanying each design with a short explanation of its origin or symbolism. The translation from Japanese is a little quirky at times but not enough to be distracting.

Japanese geometric pattern

The patterns are purely patterns and no instructions are given on how to use them but I’m already in danger of being overwhelmed by ideas for ways to incorporate the designs into knitting and quilting patterns.

Wave pattern

To sum up, if you’re interested in Japanese patterns and styles or just looking for a new source of inspiration, I can highly recommend this.


  • Title – Pattern Sourcebook: Japanese Style
  • Author – Shigeki Nakamura
  • Publisher – Rockport Publishers

Left brain vs. right brain

I’m pretty much a left-brain type person, i.e. good with numbers, logical, structured, except for when I’m very much a right-brain type person, i.e. creative, intuitive and a bit of a dreamer.

Studying for actuarial exams is about as left-brain as it gets and my right-brain appears to have gone into creative overdrive by way of rebellion. First, there was the coffee cosy:


Then the pirate eye-patch:

Pirate eye-patch

Then a new banner for the blog:

A back-up of my blog banner

I’m quite proud of the banner which is the product of my own photography and GIMP skills. I’ll never be a graphic designer but it’s fun to play every now and again. (All the books in the banner have been digitised, by the way, and are available from Project Gutenberg. The large brown ones are the “Letters of Charles Dickens” and the smaller green ones are the “Fascination of London” series.)

To top it all off, my notebook is bursting with scribbled ideas for new projects and I’ve started swatching for a Spring scarf based on the pattern of raindrops on a window (did I mention the bit about being a dreamer?) and a tea-cosy. In fact, that’s the swatch for the tea-cosy in the banner.

Some day, by which I mean after the exams, I might even be able to put my left-brain to work writing up the patterns for these projects!

“Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.”

Audiobooks are my new favourite things and there is almost nowhere that I won’t listen to them. I listen while commuting, on long car journeys, sitting at home knitting, in the bath or lying in bed waiting to fall asleep. Although I only recommend the last if you are already familiar with the plot!

It turns out that I’m a lot fussier about my audiobooks than I am about books that I read to myself though.  I’m less forgiving of bad plots when I listen to them and I’m absolutely unforgiving when it comes to bad narrators. A good narrator is an absolute must and, for me, there are two qualities that make a good narrator.

Continue reading ““Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.””

Books, coffee, cake (not necessarily in that order)

While I’m on the subject of coffee, Steven and I found ourselves in the unusual position of having a free weekday afternoon recently and decided to spend it in town with three of our favourite things: books, coffee and cake so I thought it might be nice to share some of our recommendations for the best places to find these in central London.


London Review Bookshop: A brilliant bookshop with an amazingly wide range for the size of the shop. The London Review of Books is a fortnightly literary periodical, similar in format to the great 19th century periodicals, so the books are more likely to be sporting stickers saying “Radio 4’s Book of the Week” than “Richard and Judy’s Bookclub”. Bury Place, just round the corner from the British Museum.

Foyles: Europe’s largest bookshop (in terms of number of books stocked) has been on Charing Cross Road for over 100 years. Huge food/drink and poetry sections. They also have a secondhand/antiquarian department.

Quinto: the London outpost of the Hay Cinema Bookshop. One of the best secondhand bookshops in London. Charing Cross Road.

Any Amount of Books: Another excellent secondhand bookshop, although its prices tend to be higher than Quinto. Charing Cross Road.

Forbidden Planet: A must for sci-fi fans. As well as books, they also stock DVDs, games, action figures, t-shirts and much, much more. The only bookshop in London (that I know of) with a “Paranormal Romance” section. Shaftesbury Avenue.

Gosh! comics: A new discovery for us but one of the best comic shops we know of. Great range of stock from Disney and Tintin through to DC Comics, Dark Horse and many, many more.


Caffe Vergnano 1882: Not much seating but the coffee is great. Charing Cross Road.

Monmouth Coffee Company: Best coffee in London, according to Steven. Covent Garden & Borough Market.


The cafe at London Review Bookshop: Wonderful cupcakes and larger slices of cake. I highly recommend the Lemon Merinuge Cupcakes if they’re available; they were better than many full-size lemon meringue pies I’ve had. Tip – If you like your coffee milky but still tasting of coffee, get a double shot here.

Konditor and Cook: Brilliant cakes, biscuits, gateaux but their hot food is just as good at lunchtimes. Not all of the branches have seating; the Curzon Soho and Gherkin branches are two that I know that definitely do.

Comfort Reading

In times of stress or crisis (or both!) I find myself returning to favourite books as a form of comfort that is both cheaper and less fattening than chocolate. Since I was combing the shelves last night looking for a bit of a pick-me-up, I thought I’d share some of my favourites.

Top of the list is Soul Music by Terry Pratchett, about what happens when rock and roll hits the Discworld. I’m a big fan of the Discworld series, although I’ll admit to not having kept up with the last few published, and Soul Music is my absolute favourite. Not only does it frequently reference one of my favourite films (The Blues Brothers) but I feel a certain affinity with the character of Susan. As well as sharing a name, we share a logical, rational mindset, combined with a certain underlying anger when the world (and people) just don’t work the way they’re supposed to.

Continuing with the Terry Pratchett theme, next up is Good Omens, co-written with Neil Gaiman.  It tells the story of Armageddon from the point of view of the Antichrist (a 12 year old boy living in an English village), the angel and demon sent by their respective sides to make sure that he grows up properly, and the witch and witch-finder out to stop the whole thing from happening. Like Soul Music, it’s the humour and the references that make this so enjoyable.

For a very short pick-me-up, I can also recommend Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess’s graphic novel, Stardust, about a young man who journeys into Faerie to retrieve a fallen star as a gift for his true love.

Moving away from the fantasy genre, I have to include anything by Alexander McCall Smith, particularly his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. These are the books that I read when I want to be reminded that there are good people out there and the world doesn’t have to be a cruel, selfish place. His books are probably a little too nice (or possibly naive) for everyone’s tastes but, for me, they’re the literary equivalent of a large mug of hot chocolate when you’ve just come in out of the rain. The other bonus is that he’s pretty prolific so, even for someone who reads as quickly as I do, there’s usually a new book just out or on the way soon.

Marian Keyes is another author that I return to at times like this. Her heroines are just flawed enough to be instantly identified with and her writing can move me from tears to laughter over the space of a page.

Non-fiction can be comforting too. I find myself returning to Bill Bryson’s travel books over and over again, especially Notes from a Small Island, about his travels in the UK. The (often self-deprecating) humour combined with a genuine affection for the people and places he sees make this probably my favourite non-fiction book ever.

And, last but not least, my literary equivalent of buying (and eating) a whole 400g bar of Dairy Milk is any sort of trashy chick-lit bought at the train station on the way home from a bad day at work (sometimes along with the chocolate). The brighter and more garish the cover, the better. Escaping into a world of sheer fluff and silliness for a couple of hours is often exactly what I need. Hmm, I think I might have to stop by the bookshop at the train station on my way home tonight!

Antique Pattern Library

Months ago, someone at Distributed Proofreaders pointed out the Antique Pattern Library website and suggested that they could be a good source of scans of public domain needlework and craft books for us to work on.

Fast forward to this week and it has finally happened! Volunteers from the Antique Pattern Library have agreed that we can process their scans to produce versions suitable for submission to Project Gutenberg.

I’m really excited about this! They have a great selection of 19th and early 20th century knitting, crochet, tatting, embroidery and other needlework books up there. That is a huge treasury of patterns and methods and inspiration and I love that we can help make it more widely available.

The projects are still in initial preparation at the moment but will hopefully be available for proofreading soon.

You may be right, I may be crazy

to quote the Billy Joel song. There aren’t many things that I’ll get out of bed at 7am on a Saturday morning for, there are even fewer that I’ll get up that early and then drive 200 miles for. A town of books will do it every time though.

Yesterday I met up with some fellow Distributed Proofreaders in the town of Hay-on-Wye, which bills itself as the world’s first Book Town. With around 40 bookshops (and not a Borders or Waterstones for miles!) it certainly deserves the title. The town itself is very pretty and the surrounding scenery, provided by the Black Mountains, absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, my camera spent the entire day in my bag so I have not got any pictures to share.

After a quick coffee to gather our strength, Ian, Brendon, Steve and I hit the shops. It turned out that 4 bookshops was all that we had the energy for but since each of those was at least 3 or 4 times larger than a standard second-hand bookshop, I don’t think we did too badly.

Having experienced before how easy it is to get carried away on one of these expeditions, I had set myself a budget and a rough list of particular books and particular subjects that I was going to look for. Everything was going fine for the first 3 bookshops. I picked up a book on South London by Walter Besant. I’ve been putting a selection of his books on London through Distributed Proofreaders so it was great to finally find one that covers the area we live in. (Completed Walter Besant books on Project Gutenberg.) I also found a 19th century children’s book called “The Jolly World of Boxcraft”, which explains how to make what seems like an entire town out of different sized cardboard boxes. This was slightly off-mission but looked like lots of fun. In the last-but-one bookshop, I upset the bookseller by asking the price of an unpriced copy of “Science from an Easy Chair”, a collection of general science articles published in the Daily Telegraph in 1909 and 1910. Some internet research reveals that the £2.50 she eventually charged me was a reasonable market price so she had nothing to worry about!

The last bookshop was where it all went a bit wrong. This was the Hay Cinema Bookshop, which is linked with my favourite second-hand bookshops in London, Quinto. Within about a minute of entering the shop, I had already picked up three books from the “Chats on …” series, an early 20th century series of antique-collecting guides. “Chats on Household Curios” is already available from Project Gutenberg and “Chats on Old Lace and Needlework” and “Chats on Old Silver” are currently in progress (via DP). I had hoped to find more of the series in Hay so was delighted to find “Chats on English China”, “Chats on Old Prints” and “Chats on Autographs” in the Cinema bookshop. So far so good, this was definitely on-mission and nicely finished off the budget.

Books from Hay

The bookshops were not done with me yet, though.

The Cinema bookshop has an outdoor half-price sale section that, for some reason, we hadn’t looked at before going into the main shop. Despite being pretty laden with books already and having exhausted my budget, I couldn’t resist a look for a last minute bargain. I ended up with 8! I’m a sucker for “Scottish” books of any description and there on a shelf was a series of 8 of the “Famous Scots Series”, a late 19th century series of biographies of you guessed it, famous Scots. The eight volumes that I bought are Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, James Boswell, Robert Louis Stevenson, Allan Ramsay, James Watt, Thomas Carlyle and The Blackwood group. They’re quite slim little volumes but with beautiful illustrated bindings and decorative title-pages and at £2.50 or less, each, definitely bargains!

Famous Scots Series

Book Review: Knitting Vintage Socks

I recently bought Nancy Bush’s book, Knitting Vintage Socks. I was looking for good patterns for men’s socks and realised that several of the patterns I had added to my Ravelry queue were all in this same book. I decided that it was obviously my destiny to own this book and ordered it.

The book contains a selection of 19th century knitting patterns updated, where needed, for modern yarn, needles and jargon. There is a section on the history of the periodical that the patterns were originally published in and a section on how the author went about updating the patterns. Given my work with Project Gutenberg and, more especially, my interest in their Craft bookshelf, I found these sections just as interesting as the patterns themselves.

Not that the patterns need much by way of support. There are 20 patterns; a mixture of ladies and gents. I have only made the Gentleman’s Fancy Sock pattern so far (see this post) but I will definitely be making more of these. The patterns are clearly written, with charts where appropriate. The book itself is spiral bound, which is very handy.

There are only two things that I would change about this book. The patterns are only given in one size, which may not be a problem for more experienced sock knitters, but as a new sock knitter I was relieved that the pattern I wanted to make was given in the size I wanted to knit! I realise that the original patterns would only have been published in one size and that it would have taken a lot more time and effort to provide the patterns in various sizes but it would really have added to the value of this book.

My other complaint is that the patterns have been published under their original names, which means it is not immediately clear what size the updated pattern is intended for. There is at least one pattern that has been sized as a ladies sock using modern yarn and needles but was originally published as a child’s pattern, with “child” in the name. Since only the name is listed in the Table of Contents, it is unclear how a reader is supposed to know that this is actually a ladies sock without reading the whole book.

These are reasonably minor complaints though and I can highly recommend this book to anyone looking for traditional or gents sock patterns.