Granny Squares – getting back to basics

I taught my self to crochet, as a child, using 1970’s craft books such as Golden Hands and Good Housekeeping.  My only problem was that my natural tension is very tight.  Eventually I decided to put that tight tension to good use, taking it to the extreme, and I began to design and make free-standing rigid pots and vases, which I refer to as Sculptural Crochet.

Sculptural Crochet Jug ~ designed and handmade by © Elvira Jane

Free-standing Sculptural Crochet Jug ~ designed and handmade by © Elvira Jane

I am always crocheting and I rarely go anywhere without it.  But, in the last few weeks, my crochet mojo seems to have taken an extended holiday!  It’s actually rather unsettling.  I’ve tried to start projects but I just end up undoing my work.  So, I decided to take my brain out of gear and get back to basics and make something for my own home.  This, of course, means a good old granny square throw/blanket.  Up to my craft room I went and grabbed handfuls of yarn and began throwing colour at granny squares.

Colourful Granny Squares

Colourful Granny Squares

I decided on a cream border and I’m joining the squares using the flat braid method.  This method allows me to flit between making squares and joining them together as and when I want to.  I don’t usually take on large projects like this, because I get bored, but I’m really enjoying this one.  I’ve got 16 squares made, and I think I’ll need another 38 for a good sized throw/blanket.  You can see from the photo that the squares are a bit squiffy.  As this is for myself, I am not looking for perfection, so I decided to save time and not block the squares.  I just want something colourful, and warm, and blocking won’t enhance either of those qualities.

Granny Squares joined using the Flat Braid method.

Granny Squares joined using the Flat Braid method.

Sometimes it does you good to get back to basics. 🙂

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An Island of our own…one day…maybe!

Our dream is to live a fairly isolated existence and I’m always keeping an eye out for such properties that come up for sale.  It’s daft to be looking right now, as we won’t be moving until my husband retires which is over seven years away.

Yesterday I found that the 19 acre Island Of Gigalum is currently on the market for offers over £450, 000, and it set my heart racing and head dreaming again.  It’s been on the market for some time, so I don’t know how I missed it before.

Gigalum Island Image from Rettie & Co

Gigalum Island
Image found on Rettie & Co

We want a simple, back to basics lifestyle and we’re very gradually gearing up for it.  For example; our tumble dryer packed up about three years ago and we didn’t replace it (wow…what a saving on the electric bill), then the dishwasher went a couple of years ago; we installed a wood burner and use our own logs and homemade paper bricks.  It’s small steps, and there’s lots more to do, but hopefully it won’t be a shock to the system if we do end up somewhere that has no mains services.

As part of our off-grid plans, we will be getting our veggie patch back in order, and I have a Pinterest board where I am gathering tips and ideas for all aspects of off-grid living. We know that it will be hard work, but we’re so excited at the prospect of a simple life.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking technology.  The things that can be achieved nowadays, through technological advances, are incredible and in some cases lifesaving.  I just think that we are taking it all for granted on a day to day basis, and the pressures of modern life mean we crave convenience and quick fixes to problems: We turn the heating on rather than adding another layer of clothing; we jump in the car for short journeys instead of walking or cycling; we flick the lights on when it’s only a little dimpsy; we buy too much food and end up throwing far too much away.

I hope this doesn’t come across as preaching, because it certainly isn’t my intention, it’s just my view of things.  These are changes that we want to make, the type of life we want to live, and it certainly doesn’t suit everyone.

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Combe Hill Wood – a lovely walk

One of our favourite places to take a walk, is Combe Hill Wood, in Somerset.  Although it’s a popular place, we tend to go there during the week when it’s a bit quieter.

Our dogs, Captain Jack, Zillah (both Lurchers) and Ruby (a Jack Russell) love it there too.  Unfortunately, Cosmo and Trubshaw (our Springer Spaniels) can’t cope with this walk anymore as both are elderly, suffer from arthritis, and Trubshaw also has a heart condition.  So a short gentle plod down the lane is enough exercise for them nowadays.

Combe Hill Wood

Combe Hill Wood

There are great views across the Somerset Levels.  A lot of this land, local roads, and numerous homes flooded early last year, causing major chaos, disruption and heartache.  As you can see, nature found a way to come back from the troubles.

View from Combe Hill Wood

View of the Somerset Levels from Combe Hill Wood

I always like to get a few close up shots too.  I’m afraid I’m useless at identifying flora, so if anyone can educate me about these beauties, I’d be most grateful. 🙂

Combe Hill Wood Combe Hill Wood

Combe Hill WoodCombe Hill Wood

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Genealogy Links

This is a list of links to websites for family research (mainly UK).  I have included my experience of some sites, but I have not used all of them.  I will add to this list as and when I find new sites.


Registration required ~ Subscription required ~ Ancestry have websites geared up specifically for different countries (check which suits you best) ~ Extensive collection of civil registration index, parish and other records ~ Numerous scans of original documents ~ Create a family tree (public or private) and attach records and photos ~ Connect with people and share information.

I have subscribed to this site for a number of years, and I have found it to be very useful. The down side is that I have come across many transcription errors; some are justifiable mistakes (poor/faded writing), others are simply sloppy reading/typing. That said; you can add corrections to assist future researchers.  I am a bit wary of using the family trees, for my research, as some people simply copy incorrect information from one tree to their own.  Some records used to be free to view, but I’m not sure if this is still the case.

Family Search

No registration required ~ Free to search ~ Numerous worldwide parish records, these are mostly transcriptions, but you can sometimes find images attached ~ Some records link to external sites (which may be pay to view) ~ Create a family tree (registration required, but no fee) ~ Contribute to indexing of records (registration required).

I have found this a most useful website for parish records.

Find My Past

Registration required ~ Subscription required ~ Numerous UK civil registration index, parish records and other UK documents ~ Create a family tree.

I have previously subscribed to this site, and although they have some records that aren’t available on Ancestry, I found that Ancestry was more useful to me.  I also found the search facility very limited, but this may have changed.

Free BMD

No registration required ~ Free to search ~ UK civil registration index ~ Transcriptions only.

I found the quality of transcriptions to be better than Ancestry.

Free Registers

 No registration required ~ Free to search ~ UK parish records ~ Transcriptions only.

Some counties have numerous results, other very few, but definitely worth checking.

Genes Reunited

Registration required ~ Create a family tree (free of charge), which can be shared with others on an individual basis (small annual subscription required) ~ Some records are available, but I believe this requires further payments (I have not used this area of the website).

I have found a few distant cousins through this website, and have gained some detailed information for my family tree, and shared photos and documents too (via direct email with contacts).

Guild of One-Name Studies

No registration required to search names ~ Links to external websites ~ contact names for specific studies ~ Registration is required to get involved with the projects.

Irish Genealogy

No registration required ~ Free to search ~ Irish civil registration and parish records.

Norfolk Transcription Archive

No registration required ~ Free to search ~ Parish records ~ Transcription only.

Online Parish Clerks

Cornwall * Devon * Dorset * Essex * Kent * Hampshire * Lancashire * LeicestershireSomerset * Sussex * WarwickshireWiltshire

No registration required ~ Free to search.

Scotland’s People

Registration required ~ Pay to view ~ Scottish civil registration and parish records ~ Transcriptions and some scanned images.

I have found some good information on this website, but I didn’t find it very easy to navigate.  It’s been some time since I last used it, and it may have changed.

Surname Database

No registration required ~ Free to search ~ Find out the background and meaning of a surname ~ Find alternative spellings.

West Somerset Parish Register Transcriptions

No registration required ~ Free to search ~ Transcriptions only.

Recommended by a friend.

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A baking day – Lemon Drizzle and Ginger Cake

I have been using an old Mary Berry recipe for Lemon Drizzle Cake, for several years now.  It uses margarine, is so easy to make, and the result is light and delicious.  My range of baking is very limited, but even I have been able to adapt this recipe:

Lime Drizzle

substitute the lemon with 2 limes.

Chocolate Cake

omit the lemon and granulated sugar; substitute 25 grams of the flour with 25 grams of cocoa powder.

Today I decided to try out Mary Berry’s Lemon Drizzle Traybake recipe, which uses butter instead of margarine.  Once baked, I always use a skewer to pierce all over the top of lemon drizzle cakes, before spooning over the topping, which allows it to get deep into the cake.  This one is going to feed people at an event tomorrow, but I also made a smaller one which my family, and I, tucked into while it was still warm!  I found this cake was not quite as light as the margarine version (really very little in it though), but it has a smoother texture, and a richer flavour.  In my opinion, the butter version is a better recipe and I’ll definitely be using it again!

Lemon Drizzle Cake

Lemon Drizzle Traybake

Also going to tomorrows event, is a Scottish Ginger Cake.  I have this recipe in The Dairy Book of British Food book and, although I omit several ingredients from it; oatmeal, sultanas, mixed peel, stem ginger (just a personal preference), it’s been a firm favourite with my family for a long time.

Ginger Cake

Scottish Ginger Cake

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Wood burner – free heat!

We live in a 1930’s house, which was extended by the previous owners.  The original part of the house had open fireplaces and, presumably, had a stove in the kitchen.  When we moved in, only the lounge and dining room fireplaces were exposed.  We have since opened up two of the bedroom fireplaces, but they are not currently in use.

Our house has an oil fired central heating system and, just over a year ago, we had a wood burner installed in the lounge.  I am the only one who is at home during the day (well, me and our five dogs), so it makes sense to heat just the one room, when necessary, rather than the whole house.  We also invested in a little fan that sits on top of the wood burner, and pushes the heat into the room.

We have a few trees in our garden which, when pruned, help fuel the wood burner.  We also bought a paper brick maker.  We don’t buy newspapers, so my husband collects old ones from people at work.

Paper brick maker - a great recycling tool

Paper brick maker – a great recycling tool

Just soak the shredded paper in water (I use a dustbin for this), for a few of days, to break it down, then press it in the brick maker.  Place the paper bricks (approx. house brick size) in the greenhouse to dry out.  I have also used our shredded old personal documents, but this sort of paper takes longer to break down.  One brick should burn for about an hour.

Paper bricks drying out - my first attempt

Paper bricks drying out – my first attempt

For just a little bit of effort, I have free heating during the day (when required), and we reduce our impact on the environment, by only heating the space being using.

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Lilac – a favourite

A favourite, in our garden, is the Lilac.  It was already established when we moved here and now, 14 years later, it is probably four or five times larger than it was.  It is a joy to watch it come to life, I just wish the beautiful flowers lasted longer.  Sometimes when I step into the garden the scent hits me and, just for a moment, it distracts me from any thoughts that are in my head.  Every year I feel compelled to capture it’s, all too brief, beauty.

Lilac - a favourite

Lilac – a favourite

I’m no gardener, though I’m working to change that, and this is the first year I have taken cuttings from our Lilac.  Rather than using rooting hormone powder, I have used runny honey instead.  I found this method, while researching how to take cuttings.  The results, using honey, seem to be very good, so I’m giving it a go.  I potted these yesterday and, initially, they went rather limp, but have since perked up a bit.  Only time will tell if I’ve got it right.

Lilac cuttings

Lilac cuttings

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Tambour Embroidery – a new hobby

I was introduced to Tambour Embroidery (and Tambour Beading) by a friend of mine, who used this technique for the detail of her daughter’s wedding dress.  I was struck by the beauty of the work, but thought I would find it too delicate a skill for my hands.  In the end I just couldn’t resist and I ordered a hook.  I already had some netting and an embroidery hoop so, when it arrived, I got stuck in!

Tambour Embroidery – chain stitch

I chose a Clover latch hook, to get me started.  I’m a fan of Clover products, especially their aluminium Amour crochet hooks, so I was confident about this purchase.  It’s a reasonably sturdy, yet light weight, tool with a comfortable wooden handle.  Hooks are easily removed, and replaced, using the screw on the side.  This item is supplied with one hook, a plastic storage tube and instructions.

Ideally, you would use a fixed hoop, or stand, for Tambour work.  I don’t have one, so I opted for my 4 inch embroidery hoop which is easy to hold, quite firmly in one hand.  Netting seemed a good choice, for a first go, as the holes are large and neat, creating a useful guide for stitches.  I followed this basic stitch tutorial, by Mary Corbet, which I found most helpful.

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Family History – it’s a small world

One of my interests is genealogy.  I have been working on my own family history for a good few years now, mainly since records have been available online, and I also enjoy working on other people’s family history too.  It doesn’t matter to me that I have no connection to those trees, as I just love the detective work.


I’m not technology’s greatest fan, but I must admit that it has been invaluable for my research.  Between myself, and my husband, our family history covers a large part of the UK, so family history websites have saved me a lot of travelling.  That said, I would still like to visit the places where our ancestors lived.


I was lucky enough to have access to a large family bible, which first belonged to my 4 x Great Grandfather.  He first wrote in the bible in 1836, and listed his parents, siblings and their families, so I had a lot of great information to get me started.  And once you start, it’s very hard to stop!


Through the internet, I have made contact with a few distant cousins and we have been able to share our documents, stories and photos.  I even found that a friend of mine, and I, share some distant cousins, and we had direct ancestors living next door to each other in the mid 1800’s, when both our families were living in another part of the country.  When you start digging into your family tree, and find all the connections and links, it really is a small world.

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A great start to the day

Waking up to the sunshine is always a good start to any day.  I took a couple of steps outside the back door, and I just had to take a photo.

blue and green ~ a beautiful combination

blue and green ~ a beautiful combination

What a gorgeous colour combination – a gift from nature for all to enjoy.

I love having trees in our garden.  The ones in this shot are:

Silver Birch ~ Poplar ~ Ash ~ Oak

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