Oil Lamps and Old Lace

In a favourite chair on a shady deck under the tall pines, I’ve been devouring Bellewether (Simon & Schuster, 2018), the latest novel by Susanna Kearsley.

Set in the present and in 1759 during the Seven Years’ War, the story features a Colonial house on the tidal shores of Long Island. In the present day, the centuries-old house is being turned into a museum honouring one of its owners, a Revolutionary war hero. As she researches the house’s history and acquires artifacts for the museum, curator Charley learns of the local legend of a daughter and her forbidden love, a captured French officer billeting with the family. The 18th century love story is told with plenty of historical detail and atmosphere. I can almost touch the wind-bent reeds and smell the salt-whipped air as I imagine two-masted brigs sailing down the Sound. Privateering and shipwrecks, tobacco and West Indian trade, draft-dodging and slavery all make an appearance, in Kearsley’s concise style. And, as always, suspense and the paranormal are handled perfectly: Charley’s encounters with the house’s resident ghost and a mysterious light in the woods had me shivering deliciously.

An aside: As I wrote this article, long past midnight after everyone else had retired to bed, the “ghost ship” once again slipped eerily past our island. The Wenonah II, a ship modelled after the Victorian-era steamers which once plied the lakes, was returning to the town wharf carrying only a skeleton crew. With no passengers aboard, the large vessel sailed like a shadow, with a minimum of lights sketching its outline. She made barely a sound as she passed and was visible for just a few moments before disappearing through the Narrows into the bay. How fitting as I write about a tragic tale of lost love, old houses, ships and ghosts!

The bookmark I made for myself – a lover of antique keys – uses ivory crochet lace and moss-green grosgrain ribbon, embellished with a key charm.

Our 107-year-old cottage was made for reading. There are Muskoka chairs (also known as Adirondacks) placed at the most scenic points of the island, perfect for a relaxing afternoon read. In the evenings, too, with no television, radio or other distractions, we read. My mother, siblings and spouses spend our holiday together, and a family that stays together reads together. And page-turners need bookmarkers to hold their places whilst lemonade or cups of tea and a biscuit or two are fetched. So, for the female bookworms amongst us, I made some vintage-looking bookmarks of lace and ribbon, finishing each with a small charm to match the recipient’s personality or interest. They’re easy to make and can be hand- or machine-stitched.

This ivory cotton crochet lace bookmark with pale blue grosgrain ribbon and silver-plated heart charm is for my mother.

To make these bookmarks, choose 1” to 2” wide lace that has holes running down the centre, big enough to accommodate the ribbon you want to use. Gauge the length you’ll need from the book(s) you’ll be reading (I used a paperback). Double that length, cut the lace and fold in half, lining up the holes. (The folded end will be the top of the bookmark.) Pin if necessary, and stitch up both long sides. Using a darning needle, thread ribbon (I used 1/8” polyester satin and 1/4” grosgrain) through the holes up one side and down the other, making sure there’s a loop of ribbon at the top end to attach a charm. Trim the ribbon, keeping half an inch of excess. (Optional: singe the ribbon ends carefully with a flame to prevent fraying.) At the bottom end of the bookmark, turn ribbon and lace ends to the inside about 1/4”, and stitch closed, making sure the catch the hem and ends of the ribbon to keep them in place.

Instead of threading narrow ribbon through the holes, you could sandwich a wider piece of ribbon between the layers of lace so that the colour peeps through.

To finish the bookmark, add a lightweight metal charm using one or two jump rings through the ribbon loop at the top (or through holes in the lace itself, if not using ribbon). In addition to the types of charms shown here, you could use an initial, a faux birthstone or a tassel.

These two white cotton eyelet bookmarks were made for nature lovers. I chose an owl charm for my sister and peridot-green satin ribbon to match her August birthstone. The butterfly bookmark with apricot ribbon went to my sister-in-law.


Life is a Bed of Roses

Happy Sunday! Today I’m celebrating a couple of things: the 2-year anniversary of this blog, and the start of some R&R at the family cottage. I still have to commute to work for a few days here and there, but I’m looking forward to spending lots of time in the forest — my kind of cathedral!

Rose Garden • 5” x 7” washable marker on watercolour paper © 2018 V. Barrett

Fantasy Landscapes

Back in 2016, I posted a couple of my attempts at “art” using inexpensive washable markers (Crayola, Elmer’s) and a water mister. I’d seen some examples on Pinterest, and Crayola had this idea (for kids!) on the back of their boxes. I already had some markers, watercolour paper and a mist bottle (for hot flashes!), so I thought I’d give the technique a try. I also tested out another Pinterest idea using melted crayon.

Let me emphasize that I am not an artist – but I do love nature, and trying new things – so I call these pieces “fantasy landscapes”.

Storm’s Comin’ • 8” x 10” washable marker • Inspired by Ontario lake-scapes, this was my first attempt at using the “spritz” technique – laying down broad strokes of water-based marker on watercolour paper, misting lightly with water, then tilting the paper so the colour fans out and blends. I added the trees last, using very little water in order to retain some detail.

September Hills • 5” x 7” washable marker • Colours will bleed into each other if laid close together or touching, or if sprayed at the same time or with a lot of water. Squiggly border lines form when enough pigment flows to the edge of an area and dries there.

Autumn Mist • 5” x 7” washable marker & watercolours • I let the colours blend too much on this one and lost some definition, but it’s a good example of the misty, feathering effect and map-like edging that can be achieved.

Blowin’ in the Wind • 5” x 7” washable marker, watercolours & ink • With the spritzing technique, you never quite know what you’re going to get! This take on a poppy field was an attempt to salvage an experiment gone wrong. Let’s call it ‘whimsical’!

Hot Mess (detail) • 8” x 10” melted crayon on paper • Don’t believe those Pinterest photos showing fabulous works of melted crayon art! Trying to melt broken crayolas with a heat gun (a hair dryer doesn’t work) onto paper was ridiculously laborious, not to mention dangerous, and just blew the bits around – and all over the room – in ugly globs of colour. This detail of a very abstract piece is really the only half-decent part of the end result.

Heather Hills • 5” x 7” washable marker • After a long hiatus, I got out my markers and paper again to make this recent picture. In addition to a spray bottle, I found by happy accident that a raindrop effect can be achieved by dropping or flicking water onto the pigment, whether wet or dry. Unhappily, I discovered that glitter washable marker does not blend well when wet (but could be used to highlight dry areas) – but I was sufficiently pleased with the overall result to give this one as a gift to a family member.

Billow • 5” x 7” washable marker • To me, this picture, which took hours to make, looks sort of like batik. I was careful to work section by section, allowing each to dry sufficiently before starting an adjacent area or colour. I kept most colours separate, or layered pigment wet-on-dry, and used white space to enhance the composition. In addition to a mister, I used an eyedropper to add water to specific areas and push it along as needed. This allows more control over the final result than just spritzing.

True Colours

True Colors 2 seed bead & sterling silver rainbow necklace © Gillyflower Faire

Pride Month is in full swing, and today was Toronto’s annual Pride Parade. The colours of the rainbow may not have shown themselves in the day’s grey and drizzly sky, but they were flown proudly everywhere in the city.

This week I had the sudden and shocking news that the facility where I’ve worked for five years – a job I love and a place where I’ve made many friends who’ve become family – has closed its doors. Shock has already given way to a bit of anger, lots of mourning, and a path of slow acceptance. As I learn to deal with what was perhaps an inevitable change, I will take time to understand the situation from as many angles as I can, and ensure that our “family” doesn’t fall apart. On Friday, some of us got together to talk, to reminisce, to mourn (I looked at our gathering as somewhat of a funeral), and just to be with one another. We ended the evening on a positive note and with assurance that each of us, in our own way, will be alright.

The day of the “funeral”, I sat down at my worktable and made a new perfume, just to lift my spirits. It worked out exactly as I’d intended (which is really saying something), and I wore it to the gathering. The fragrance is a balance between grounded earthiness and something uplifting, and was perfect for the mood I was in. I’ll share the recipe soon.

Today, when I’d normally be working all day, I needed to stay creative. Cheerful colours were in order to counteract the rain that fell in a steady, gentle curtain all morning. In celebration of today’s parade, I made a simple beaded necklace (above) in the colours of the rainbow (which correspond with the chakras): red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. A version of this bright, summery necklace will join other rainbow/chakra jewellery in my Etsy shop. Here’s a sampling:

Clockwise from top L: Over the Rainbow Czech glass necklace; Chakra bracelet with quartzite, aventurine & amethyst; anodized aluminum Rainbow Chakra chainmaille bracelet; True Colors seed bead necklace © Gillyflower Faire

I’m proud of what I achieved at the place-that-no-longer-is, through lots of learning, honing skills and hard work, professional development and professionalism. So, this summer and as long as it takes for positive change, I will wear the necklace with pride and remembrance, and hope for a brighter future.


Once again getting in just under the wire, this is my submission for the Photographic Monthly Meet-Up hosted by Wild Daffodil. This month’s prompt is Scale.

My interpretation is a chainmaille pattern called Dragonscale. I’d never tried it before, probably because it’s a rather daunting-looking weave that’s classified as intermediate in terms of difficulty. However, despite a slow start and some frustration, I did eventually get the hang of it, coming up with this sample piece made of green and silver anodized aluminum rings:

For this Dragonscale piece I used 14 gauge 3/8″ ID (9.9 mm) green anodized aluminum rings (A.R. 4.9) and 18 gauge 1/4″ ID (6.7 mm) silver anodized aluminum rings (A.R. 5.5) which worked perfectly for this weave. Gauge is SWG; supplies from The Ring Lord.

Dragonscale is a relative of the original European 4-in-1 weave used to make medieval chainmaille armour. Two sizes of rings are used to produce a dense yet flexible weave; I chose to go big for my first couple of pieces, just to see how they’d turn out. Some clever maillers make awesome accessories such as pouches and bracelets from Dragonscale, even reenactment clothing and armour. Inspired by some lovely Fairy Dragon Eggs crafted by Mrs. Cobs over at Cobweborium Emporium, I wanted to use this pattern to make my own version of dragon’s eggs. There are examples of egg-shaped Dragonscale pendants online, but there aren’t any tutorials to be found, so I had to fiddle a bit to figure out how many rings and rows I needed. I was able to make this blue “egg”:

Using the same ring sizes as the green sample, the egg is 4 large rings across and 12 rows high, with a few extra rings added at the top to create a more oval shape, plus a large ring as a hanging loop.

The finished piece is almost the size of a real chicken’s egg. To get the shape, I folded the squarish rectangle in on itself (the weave goes cone-shaped when you do this – and I almost did, too, trying to get this thing done). Then I “stitched” up the small gap at the back with a few extra rings wherever the existing weave allowed. The back isn’t as neat as I’d like, and the egg doesn’t quite taper to an oval at the top, but it’s a start.

The shape is perfect, however, for acorns and pinecones – all I need are the right colours, and I’m off to the races. I might carry on with the green sample, perhaps introducing other colours to make a small wall hanging.

And, just so I can weigh in on another type of scale for this challenge, here’s a photo of my brother – an avid fisherman – proving that holding a small fish up to the camera to make it appear bigger Just. Doesn’t. Work.

The April photo challenge starts tomorrow, and the prompt is Yellow.

Speaking of colours, my theme for this month is A Blue & White Love Affair. (I’m not so into yellow, just so you know, but I sure do love blue in all its beautiful hues, especially when it’s partnered with white.) Stay tuned!


During a break from work over the holidays, I had time to do a lot of crafting, including a number of new items for my Etsy shop. I also discovered several pieces I’d completed long ago and had put aside, intending to photograph and list in the store. (The task of taking and editing 5 or 6 product photos each and then doing the detailed write-up is tedious and often deters me from getting them done. I feel a resolution coming on… .) Once I get them listed, it’ll be good to have a fresh array of products for the new year!

The re-discovered pieces are copper and bronze pendants engraved freehand using a small electric engraving tool (a new technique for me) and then aged with Gilder’s wax. Finding them again has renewed my interest, so I’ll be doing some more designs soon.

The chainmaille bracelets, necklace and keychains (plus earrings not shown) use familiar weaves as well as new patterns, in copper, bronze, brass, aluminum and stainless steel. I have an idea to feature a different weave every once in a while, here or on my Facebook page, or both.

As I was photographing them, I realized that these glimmering, gleaming baubles probably qualify for January’s Monthly Meet-Up: Sparkle, a photo challenge set by Wild Daffodil. I hope you enjoy this small sampling of the shiny jewels I’ve been working on.

Stay warm, and keep crafting!

Tied Up In Knots

More paracord projects!

More monkey’s fists: Some monkey’s fist designs, especially larger ones, will have a marble, knotted cord, ping pong ball or other sphere as its core.

Keychains & lanyards: (L to R) Utility knife lanyard using the crown sinnet (box) knot; the fishtail knot in this keychain looks similar to the snake knot but is tied quite differently; this version of a ‘Celtic Slammer’ (a self-defense weapon) employs a Celtic knot around the marble, snake knots for the lanyard, and a decorative diamond knot at the top. I use this piece as an amulet.

Animals & figures: The frog looks complicated but is really a modified crown sinnet; the “buddy” has a diamond knot for the head and cobra knots for the body; snake knots are used for the bumblebee.

Holiday tree ornaments & zipper pulls: Snake knots make up this snowflake; a tiny snowman uses a series of conjoined diamond knots; cobra knots form this beaded Christmas tree; the Hallowe’en pumpkin has a diamond knot, often used as a secure stopper knot, at its core.