Wednesday, November 26, 2014

DewCatDesigns - Beaded Mittens

I thought I might share a bit about my own creations today.   As you may already know, I enjoy beading and embroidery.  At the moment, I make small beaded decorative ornaments, mainly for Christmas (when the sparkly silver-lined seed beads really come to life), but also as bag charms, gift toppers, phone charms, dinky hostess gifts, rear-view mirror hangers etc etc...

The latest cold snap (-2°C last week, and 6" of snow today!) got me thinking about all things warm and cosy, specifically a lovely warm pair of mittens - perfect for snuggling your fingers into.  So I thought I'd make a sparkly beaded mitten hanging decoration.

First I did some rough sketches to get the basic shape.

Then I converted this into a "pixel" picture - ie drawn in whole squares on graph paper.  This took a few iterations, and lots of re-drawing before I had a shape I was happy with.

Then I thought about colours and any decorative touches I wanted to add.  I decided on red and white / silver, and a small decorative pattern.  (Having now made up the final design, I'm not quite happy with the "decoration" and think perhaps a pretty bead or charm might work better).

Once the design was finalised, it was then time to start sewing!  I hand-sew each bead individually onto a small piece of canvas.  This particular design includes over 400 individual seed beads.

Once the beads are sewn, I trim the canvas to a few mm around the beads, and fold back the excess.  This provides a rough shape to which the felt backing can then be sewn.  I attach a hanging thread (securely) and lightly pad the mitten with a little stuffing to give it a bit of shape.

And we're done!  One bright red sparkly mitten to hang on your tree (or your handbag, mobile, rear view mirror, twiggy tree, key ring etc etc).

If you like the look of the mitten, take a little peek at my Etsy shop to see some of my other designs -   I've even added a kit of a festive stocking so you can have a go yourself!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Driving Me Potty

Once I'd actually got my head around moving to the USA (it took me a little while), one of the things I was most concerned about was driving on the other (ie wrong) side of the road.  On the wrong side of the car.  In an automatic...

I refused to drive when we came out for a pre-familiarisation trip in the spring, convinced that I would immediately crash and kill either myself or somebody else.  Even as a passenger, turning left took some serious focus and concentration - often it seemed you couldn't even see the lane you were meant to be turning into!  Traffic lights were initially confusing too, with some lanes giving way to others even on green, let alone the old "turn right on a red light" thing.

So when my new car was ready to be collected after 2 weeks of relocating, I did panic a little bit.  Hubby had made me drive round our estate a couple of times, white knuckled and tense (me, not him), but I'd not yet driven on busy roads or dual carriageways.  And I certainly wasn't feeling confident.  And now my car was ready to collect and I'd have to drive it home on my own!

In all honesty, I don't remember much about the journey back home from the dealership, other than my heart being in my mouth, lots of under-breath muttering and a few expletives as I followed hubby back through a maze of streets and traffic lights.  But somehow I made it back in one piece.

The next challenge came with having to obtain my PA photo identification card, and taking my driving theory test.  Back to the books and lots of revision of the US Highway Code.  Then more queues and form filling at PennDot (Pennsylvania Department of Transport) followed by a short computerised multiple choice theory test.  Full marks later (phew), and a few more queues and photos, and I had my PA ID card (and temporary licence).

But I still have to take my PA driving test in order to drive legally, although with my International Driving Licence (obtained at the Post Office before we left the UK), I have 12 months in which to do so.

Inevitably as the weeks have gone by, my driving confidence has grown little by little.  Partly by necessity (otherwise I'd be completely house-bound, as you can't walk anywhere safely), I've gradually gone a little further afield, although most of my journeys still tend to be to the gym, the supermarket and the shopping malls!  But I feel more confident in getting in the car, and only once so far have I committed the mortal sin of climbing into the wrong side of the car.... (cue much diligent rummaging in the glove box because obviously I'd meant to get in on that side...).

So the driving test still looms.  I'm thinking of investing in a couple of driving lessons just to boost my confidence and maybe get some top tips on the test itself, although I'm told that the test is relatively simple and short compared to the UK as long as you can perfect your parallel parking.  Apparently this will also reduce our motor insurance costs as well (currently extortionate because we have no driving history in the US).  We shall see...

Friday, November 21, 2014

Wild Encounters on our Doorstep

We've been in the US for 3 months now, and one of the things that has struck me is the sheer variety of wildlife we've seen - mostly in our back yard!

During the summer, the area underneath our garden shed housed 3 rabbits, including a very cute baby bunny who can still be seen occasionally hopping around in the early morning mist.  We also have several squirrels who seem to know no fear - they particularly enjoy playing chicken on the driveway.  Our 2 cats (now indoor-bound) love to watch them playing on the patio and chasing each other around the tree trunks (and wrecking the bird feeder).

The trees (of which there are 7 or 8 surrounding our house, hence all the leaves), also play host to a huge variety of birds - very few of whom would be recognised in UK gardens.  I wish I could identify them all - there's a project for another day!  We have lots of small finch-like birds, some with little crested heads, several woodpeckers, one that looks like a magpie but with brilliant blue wings, and beautiful red cardinals (I wish I could get a photo of the cardinals but they're quite elusive).  Apparently we sometimes get wild turkeys too, but we haven't yet spotted them yet.  There's also an old hawk's nest in one of the trees, and it's not unusual to spot large birds of prey circling above (one of the reasons for the cats now being indoor-bound).

Also in the trees, particularly over the summer months, were a huge number of very noisy cicadas.  The noise these insects make is similar to that of crickets or tree frogs, but the sheer volume of the "singing", which seems to come in waves, is difficult to describe.  Live cicadas are a bright green colour, so they are difficult to spot in leafy trees.  However, they seem to shed their skins fairly frequently, so that the papery brown casings are left all over tree trunks and brick walls.  Quite disconcerting to start with.  With the colder weather, the noise has dwindled and now they seem to have disappeared altogether.

In our first few weeks we also had 3 deer running through the backyard (it looked like a doe and 2 babies).   They didn't stop for long enough to get a photo, but it was lovely to see them flash past the window.

We appear to have a chipmunk living underneath the hot tub right outside the house.  One day we could hear some spirited squawking / squeaking, and assumed it was another bird shouting at the cats through the screen door.  But when we investigated, both cats had their noses pressed to the window looking intently at a little chipmunk a few feet away, obviously trying to defend his hot tub house with some loud squeaks!  (Don't judge us re: the hot tub; it's our landlord's and is devoid of both water and power).  Every so often I catch a fleeting glimpse of him from the kitchen window as he scampers across the patio from one end to the other.

Spot the groundhog by the shed door...

We've had a ground hog bumbling around the garden in early Autumn, too.  He tends to stay on the edges of the garden, so is difficult to photograph, but I'd guess he's about the size of a badger.  He bumbles around, presumably rooting up grubs and insects, but moves surprisingly quickly when startled.

Finally, earlier this week as the cold weather hit, we briefly enjoyed the company of a possum one evening.  He set off the motion-detector light over the patio when he found the stale crisps I'd put out for the birds - the light didn't seem to bother him at all, and he stayed around until he'd snuffled every single crumb!

With our interest in wildlife piqued, this weekend we went to visit the  Wolf Sanctuary of PA in nearby Lititz.  Amazing place - and probably the subject of a future post...




Monday, November 17, 2014

Fall and Spiders

I've begun to understand the significance of "Fall" in the US.  Fall is a celebration of Autumn, and houses / gardens are decorated from September onwards with orange lights, pumpkins, chrysanthemums and corn sheaves, as well as Halloween-themed decs, presumably until the Christmas decorations come out (I'll let you know shortly!).

Fall also reflects the tremendous leaf fall - and as our house is surrounded by big trees there are suddenly a LOT of leaves.  Maybe I wasn't quite so aware of the leaf fall in the UK, or maybe they just got bedraggled and soggy and weren't as noticeable, but here they're piling up everywhere.  Obviously hubby had to buy a new toy and has been happily playing with his leaf blower.  Things are quite well organised in the township though - you sweep / blow the leaves into a big pile on the edge of the road outside your house, and then every few weeks a truck with a big hoover attachment comes along and sucks them all up!

It was while tackling the leaf build-up on our patio last week that I uncovered a nasty looking and rather large spider.  I didn't scream like a girl, which is unusual because I absolutely hate spiders, especially big furry stripy ones with knees like him...  Probably because he didn't scuttle anywhere but played dead for a bit (I had just raked him halfway across the patio before I noticed him). But I did stop picking up leaf piles with my hands and kept a wary eye on him whilst I finished up.  Eventually he did sidle away.  Apparently he's a harmless grass spider, but he's still big and furry and stripy with knees and still gives me the shivers...

But he also inspired me into creativity.  Beading is my thing, and I remembered a Pinterest post I'd seen a while ago on different ways of making beaded spiders originally posted by Brandywine Jewellery Supply (  There's some fab tutorials on here.  So I decided to make a non-scary, non-furry, slightly sparkly spider to see if it would take away those shivers.  It kind of did.

The first blue one was great fun to make - I found a couple of bracelets in a craft shop clearance bin with just the right beads for the body (I think they're called shamballa beads), and along with the seed beads and bugle beads that I already had in my stash, he came together really quickly.  I had to undo the first set of legs as they were a little flimsy, so I used a slightly thicker gauge of wire the second time around.  That worked much better and the legs were much more pose-able, although I still found that they twisted slightly around the body - I fixed this with a little spot of jewellery glue.

There's nothing less intimidating than pink sparkles, so the next one was the perfect antidote to furry stripy spiders...  I adapted the legs slightly on these as my bugle beads were quite long, and I didn't want them to be too leggy.  Pretty!

I think they're both a lott less intimidating and shiver-inducing than the real-life variety.

However, I'm intrigued by the possibilities presented by working with wire in terms of beaded shapes, as previously I've only used beads by hand-sewing them.  I'm still experimenting, and I'm thinking how I can perhaps expand to other bugs (cute ones only, obviously).  I feel another project coming on!

(If you like the spiders, I will put some in my Etsy shop - - please take a look!)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Exploring Boston

This week was a "significant" birthday for me, but I'm trying not to dwell on it.  (If I'm honest, I was more upset about turning 20 than I was about this birthday).  It helped that hubby treated me to a fantastic weekend in Boston.  When we moved here to Pennsylvania, we agreed that this was an ideal opportunity to explore the USA and go to places we'd never ordinarily have the chance to visit.  Boston has always been somewhere I've wanted to go  - not really sure why, other than a sort of vague curiosity about "old" America.

So on Thursday evening, a short 2 1/2 hour flight from nearby Harrisburg found us in Boston.  Without wishing to give a history lesson, Boston was founded almost 400 years ago in 1630 by Puritans from England who named the town after Boston in Lincolnshire.  The city played a key role in the Revolution, and was a major seaport and trade centre in early America.

It's a strange mix of "old" historical buildings and shiny skyscrapers, with some lovely parks and open spaces.  Quite incongruent at times, but makes for an interesting experience as you walk around, as you're never quite sure what's round the corner.

The best thing about Boston is that you can walk almost everywhere - good for the not-yet-fully-confident-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road-drivers like me!   (And being able to walk is quite refreshing - there are no pavements in the estate where we've moved to, so if you were brave enough to walk anywhere you'd take your life in your hands (it seems road lines are not strictly followed by drivers here, who seem to meander across all lanes, including the hard shoulder, at will).  We miss this ability to walk everywhere, having previously lived on the very edge of the Taff Trail in Cardiff.)

The Freedom Trail was our obvious starting point - a (mostly) red-bricked walking trail about 2 1/2 miles long through some key historical sites, from the Boston Massacre to Paul Revere's house and the Old North Church (where the two famous lanterns warned Revere that the British were coming by sea, starting his journey to warn local militia and effectively starting the American Revolution).

Faneuil Hall and Quincy's Market were full of market stalls (both tacky and lovely) and what seemed like hundreds of food stalls with every kind of gastronomic delight imaginable.  Even though we were technically out-of-season, it was still heaving with people grabbing their lunch.  We found a nearby restaurant and sampled the famous New England clam chowder which was delicious.

We made it was far as USS Constitution - the oldest commissioned warship afloat, launched in 1797 (ok, I admit to being a Pompey girl, who grew up with the Mary Rose, Victory and Warrior).  We caught the shuttle boat back to Boston Harbour (tired legs by that stage), getting some prime views of the Boston skyline, and again the mix of old and new buildings.

We found ourselves back in the Harbour the following day for a whale-watching trip.  Initially dubious (both our parents have previously been and not seen a thing), we were amazingly lucky and met with 30-40 humpback whales.  Even the boat crew were getting excitable!  It was an amazing experience to see them all around the boat.

On our final day, we made the most of the chilly but fine weather, and took an autumnal stroll through Boston Common and Public Garden, intrigued by the activities of what seemed like hundreds of squirrels scurrying around (somehow they seem much bigger over here!).  I dragged hubby to see the duck sculpture "Make Way for Ducklings", based on a children's book, and then we took in the remnants of the autumn colours on the trees (we were a few weeks too late for the stunning leaf displays in October).

For a few hours of fun we also took in New England Aquarium - stroking cow-nose rays, watching ponderous sea turtles in the giant tank, and enjoying the antics of the penguins at feeding time.

We were sad to leave Boston early on Monday morning, but there's so much we more we could have done, I have a feeling we may be back again!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A New Bead on Life

""Bead" - [noun] - a small, usually round object of glass, wood, stone, or the like with a hole through it, often strung with others of its kind in necklaces etc; [idiom] - draw /get a bead on, to take careful aim at.""

This seemed like an apt title for my new blog. 

Firstly, I'm a beading crafter - I enjoy making things with beads.  Secondly, I'm at a new page in my life and I want to make the most of things - take a new aim at a new life, if you like.

After a strange period of frustration / mid-life-crisis / feeling that there's more to life, I now have an amazing opportunity to do something different.  I've moved to America!  Quite a drastic action, agreed, but the move came with my hubby's promotion.  We've been here for 2 ½ months, and are settling in nicely.  So far, life in the USA is exciting, frustrating, enjoyable, scary, different and familiar all at the same time.  I'm hoping to share our experiences as we settle in.  More to follow!
Beaded Stocking - DewCatDesigns 2014
But beads are also my creative output.  It started with a chance encounter with embroidery and beads at a craft fair in Cardiff (where we used to live) a few years' ago.  I'm normally a cross-stitcher, but the sparkly silver-lined seed beads really appealed to my inner magpie, and it went from there!  I created some Christmas decorations with the sparkly beads, and loved the creative process.  Friends and family were complimentary, so I set up an Etsy site (  Over the years, the time I could dedicate to the site and to my crafting interests has varied greatly with work and other commitments, but my love of embroidery and beads is still there.  Now, with our new lifestyle, I have time to dedicate to exploring my interest further.

Wire-wrapped herringbone earrings - as made by me!
I have already tracked down a local beading-shop-slash-beader's-paradise-slash-place-I-could-happily-spend-hours-just-gazing-at-beautiful-beads...  ... ahem...  I've also started to attend a few of their workshops to expand my beading repertoire and see what else I can make with my own large (and growing) collection of beads (wire-wrapped beads, woven beads, 3D beaded shapes...exciting!).  And whatever other crafty initiatives take my liking!
Hopefully you'll stay with me as I share my crafty endeavours along the way, as well as an insight into our day-to-day adventures in the US!