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crafts

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Dumpling Cats – A Crochet Book for Cat Lovers {review & giveaway}

Do you remember how I taught myself to crochet last year? With a little (lot of) help from YouTube, of course. Well, I’m still at it, still learning, and enjoying it as much as ever. I’m drawn to it for the creativity as well as just having something to do with my hands while I’m sitting watching a movie or chatting with a friend. It is truly fulfilling to see a creation come to life!

My most recent challenge – crocheting these little cuties. Dumpling Cats is a collection of crochet patterns you can use to create your own little menagerie of furry friends. There are 25 cats in all, and each comes with a little write-up on their name and personality. I found it fun to read through and decide which dumpling cat to hook first. The collection is inspired by the game Neko Atsume: Cat Collector, which immediately appealed to me, as I’ve been playing that on my phone for about a year now. (The game is simply about placing food and toys to entice adorable cats, each with a different personality and preferences, to come visit. You can take pictures of the cats for an album, or watch them play. It’s purely about the cuteness.)

The cats in Dumpling Cats are adorable. I brought the book with me on a recent cottage trip, so I could work on the Finneus pattern. According to his bio, Finneus really likes to eat, and his favourite spot to hang out is the cardboard box near the kitchen – so he can always be first in line for lunch. My fellow crafters, and the teen and tween girls who were there were all excited for the book. I now have my work cut out for me as each of the girls pointed out cats they need me to make for them.

So, first thumbs-up for this volume – the creations are really cute, interesting, and something any cat lover would be happy to make. The next question of course is how accurate and easy to follow are the patterns. So far I’ve only done one cat, but can confirm that even this newbie was able to follow the pattern and create something pretty close to looking like it was supposed to. I had some difficulty with the legs and ears, and I put that down to my newness with crochet terms. Looking at the legs I first made, I knew they had to be wrong, so I went back and re-read the instructions. I quickly picked out where I had misinterpreted, and fixed the problem on my second try.

Important to note – the excellent illustrations accompanying the different steps of each pattern were the clue to tell me I’d made a mistake. They are a great help, especially to a more novice crochet fan. At the same time, the patterns are varied enough to keep a more advanced crafter interested. The directions explain every stage, from ears to tail, and some of the patterns include accessories and costume items. Plus, there are bonus patterns for a cat bed, food bowls, and more!

Here is my little guy. I used a larger crochet hook than indicated in the pattern, so he’s a bit out of scale, but still adorable, IMO.

For More Information

Dumpling Cats is written by Sarah Sloyer, and published by Dover Publications. You can connect with Dover on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Buy It

You can purchase this volume from Amazon.ca. This is my affiliate link, and if you make a purchase after clicking here, I will receive a small commission from Amazon.

Win It

Dover Publications has generously offered a copy of Dumpling Cats as a giveaway to a lucky RMB reader. Entries are via the widget below and will be accepted until 11:59pm EDT, September 10. Giveaway is open to Canadian residents only. Best of luck!!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of this book. No financial compensation was received. All opinions on this blog, as always, remain my own.

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Getting Crafty with Duct Tape Bags {giveaway}

It’s really amazing the things that can be done with duct tape. Over the past couple of years this tool box staple has become a crafting material of choice, and is available in an ever-growing array of colours and patterns. Boo has acquired a fair collection. He is particularly fond of using narrow, metallic duct tape to make decorative patterns on various belongings. 
Taking this crafting up at least a couple of levels, we have this new book from indie crafter, Richela Fabian Morgan, Duct Tape Bags: 40 Projects for Totes, Clutches, Messenger Bags, and Bowlers. Fabian Morgan began crafting with duct tape 8 years ago, with simple bifold wallets, and has 3 previous duct tape craft books in print. 
This latest volume lays out clear instructions for creating 40 different bags in a variety of sizes and styles. The step-by-step directions are accompanied by photos, making it easy to follow along and feel confident you’re on the right track. Before you get started on any of the projects, an introductory section lay out the basics of working with duct tape and the tools you will need. Specific tutorials walk you through the process of creating your duct tape fabric (the base of any project), and how to attach the three different bag closures required in the projects.
The projects are gorgeous, with easy to follow directions, and beautiful photography. Perfect for all you crafty types – maybe you can even use this to make some wonderful, hand-made bags for holiday gifting?

Get Social

You can connect with Richela Fabian Morgan and see what she’s up to on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest

The Giveaway

One lucky RMB winner will receive their own copy of Duct Tape Bags. Entries are via the widget below and will be accepted until 11:59pm ET, November 26. This giveaway is open to both Canadian and US residents. Best of luck!!!

Entry-Form

Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of this book. No financial compensation was received, and all opinions on this blog, as always, remain my own.  This post contains affiliate links.

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My Christmas Wreath (DIY)

 I went a little bit Martha this year and decided to decorate my own wreath for the front door. I picked up an inexpensive, plain spruce wreath, some sprays of berries, bows, and my exacto knife, and set to work.
This is really a very simple project, and I won’t do a full step-by-step. You can choose the decorative pieces you’d like to add yourself. 

I started with red, white and gold berries, but ended up not using the white once the wreath started to come together. I choose to buy larger sprays and then cut them down to size, as this was a cheaper option than buying tons of small sprays. The clumps of berries are all on individual wire, and then floral tape holds the wires together into one stem, so it is really easy to slice them apart with the exacto knife.
I laid the berries and bows around the wreath to see what would look nice, before I committed to a pattern. Then I secured everything in place by simply wrapping the wires around the twigs of the wreath. No glue guns required with the items I chose. Totally the simplest DIY ever!
This is the finished product, hanging proudly on my front door. I added a string of battery-powered mini-lights to give some sparkle for evening visitors. Again, easy-peasy – just wind the string of lights through the greenery, making sure the battery pack is accessible, but not too obvious. 
Voila!
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Carving Pumpkins

Have you carved your pumpkins yet? (If you don’t go in for all that Hallowe’en-y stuff, you should probably stop reading now.) I just finished mine today. I don’t like to carve them too early (despite the desperate pleas of my Little Boo), because, you know, I don’t like them to rot before the big night. Also, the big kids in this neighbourhood can be jerks sometimes, and I’d like our Jack O’Lanterns to survive to do their job. Our pumpkins have been sitting all nekkid on our front walk for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve been itching to get my carve on.

Carving pumpkins isn’t really very difficult, but it is pretty messy. And you have to have the right tools. As you can see from the picture below, my laptop and my coffee are both critical to the process
My recommendations:
  • Line your work surface with newspaper to make clean-up a snap (or fold, whatever).
  • Have plenty of paper towels to wipe your hands and/or the pumpkin.
  • You will need a heavy, sharp knife to cut the top off your pumpkin; something with which to scoop out the pumpkin guts (I love the serrated plastic spoon above that my friend gave me, but a ladle works too); a smaller knife, or special battery-operated cutting tool to carve your design (I don’t know where I got mine, but it’s like a mini-jigsaw and it is AMAZING!)
  • When you cut the top (lid) off your pumpkin, be sure to cut in on an angle so you can lay the lid back on afterwards.
  • I always use two bowls for the debris, so I can separate out the seeds for roasting as I go.

pumpkin guts
to be scooped
I always used to carve my pumpkins free-hand. The result wasn’t always pretty, but usually pretty scary. Then I tried drawing a design first, before going all mad with the blade. But for the last couple of years I am all about templates. There are lots of online sources for free, printable templates. Here are a few you might want to check out:

Pumpkin Masters (My Jack O’Lantern pictured below is their Ichabod’s Fate.)
Disney Character Templates, from Disney
Spoonful – courtesy of Disney (these are non-Disney patterns)
Today’s Parent
Better Homes and Gardens

Once you have selected your template (think about the size and shape of your pumpkin and what will fit best), print it out and get ready to carve. You could use the template as a guide and draw the design freehand onto your pumpkin, but it is much easier (in my opinion) to tape your template on, and then use a sharp point to mark your pattern onto the pumpkin’s surface, right through the paper. Many pumpkin carving kits come with a little punch for this purpose, but I used a cocktail pick.

When you have transferred your pattern onto the pumpkin, remove the template and get carving.  Depending on the complexity of your pattern, your little pokes may be hard to follow. Be sure to keep the template close by for comparison.

You can see how complex the pattern can look without context.
Refer to the template if you need a reminder.

As I mentioned, I use a battery-operated carving tool. I find it much quicker and easier than the knives I used to use. You do need to remember to poke it into the flesh first before you turn it on. Another tip – it is easier to remove small pieces from your carving. You can poke pieces through as you go (this will also start to give you a feel for the end result), or wait til the end. If you wait til the end of the carving, you may need to make additional cuts to be able to ease pieces out without breaking your design. Also, I find I often need to do a little trimming of the flesh to make the design stand out, especially with a larger pumpkin. Sometimes the angle of your cuts will leave a lot of flesh visible in the eyes, for instance, and that will affect how your pumpkin looks when lit. Trim it off for a clean end result.

There he is! My beauty. Just add a candle, and he is good to go. I do use candles still, but I use a votive in a glass holder. The holder protects from accidental firestarters, as well as protects the candle from the night breezes that would like to blow it out. I have tried battery-operated lights and glo-sticks, but they don’t provide the effect I am going for.

Happy Carving!
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The Bunny Hutch

I’ve written before about our family tradition of the Easter Bunny Hutch, and what a part of my life it’s always been. Well, I thought I’d present you with a little “How-To” in case you’d like a bunny hutch of your own.
The first thing you will need is a small table. We use Little Boo’s craft table. You could also use a child’s desk, or one of those folding TV dinner tables (you know what I mean).
The table will need a fence going all the way around, to keep the godforsaken Easter grass in place. I made our fence this year with Bristol board, but construction paper works well and is easier to cut. I was going for something sturdier though as an experiment.
Measure, mark, and cut the Bristol board into four even strips, lengthwise. (You could do more strips if you wanted a shorter fence.)
Accordion fold each strip. I made my folds about 1.5 inches.
Now, think cutting out paper dolls. You can give your fence any design you like, so long as you can cut it into the Bristol board/construction paper. If you are using construction paper you will be able to cut multiple layers at once. With the Bristol board I was cutting one at a time and carefully matching up the cuts.
I tried for a bit of a picket fence look.
Once your fence is cut out, carefully tape it to the table, around the outside edge. You will need to match up the separate strips of fence you cut. I used three for this table.
Then, add enough Easter grass to cover the table and give some cushioning. I prefer to go primarily with one colour. You can decorate however you like. We generally make a little hutch out of an old tissue box covered in pastel coloured paper. Clean twigs look cute too, especially if you stick Easter gummy candies onto them like flowers on a tree.
Be sure to include a bunny or two, some eggs, and a couple of chicks.

When the Easter Bunny comes, he will leave a bunch of treats in the grass, and will place any gifts under the table.  Little Boo’s Easter basket is already there and ready to go on the egg hunt!