The birth of a ‘vaark

With the immediate success of snailvaark, and the almost-as-immediate request from Danielle-inventor-of-the-mousevaark for a snailvaark of her own, I was carried along on a wave of creativity. This, in combination with the foul weather on Saturday lead to me and snailvaark #1 running a live ‘birth of a snailvaark’ on Twitter. What do you mean, you missed it? OK, I know Twitter isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so here is a look at how our day went…

First, we headed to the limery with a all the necessary materials:


I bet you’ve forgotten something!

And then I started on the shell:


This doesn’t look anything like my shell

The first half progressed quite quickly and I moved on to picking up the stitches for the second half:


Well that looks more promising

And by lunchtime the knitting was done


Are you sure it isn’t going to be a butterfly?

The next bit is tricky – grafting


Apparently snailvaark does not like needles

And inserting the skeleton… hang on, where is the skeleton?


So, no needles, but you’ll balance a skeleton on your nose?

Finally I was able to continue grafting, stuffing and inserting the pipe-cleaner skeleton


This looks complicated

And snailvaark found some new friends who were watching the Six Nations rugby:


‘Come on Wales!’ What do you mean ‘This is France-Italy’?

Finally, the shell was complete:


OK, this is the ‘snail’ but where’s the ‘vaark?

And I made a start on the body:


You begin with the nose

It grows


Apparently embryonic ‘vaarks wear jewellery!

and grows


A ‘vaark bust

Until it starts to be recognised by other ‘vaarks


‘Hello… I said HELLO’… oh, sorry, no ears yet

And after a while there’s a body and a separate ‘vaark bottom


We can rebuild him!

All the knitting and crochet is nearly done – we just need some ears


Can you see the family resemblance yet?

For a ‘vaark stand up. it needs a heavy bottom, so they are filled with rice. To avoid unfortunate, embarrassing accidents, a little bag is employed:


No, snailvaark, that is not a snack

It is inserted into the base of the ‘vaark


Not looking!

And once the base is attached, the shell can be stitched on and the button nose added:


Oh look, snailvaarks are born blind and deaf

Crochet ears and button eyes soon follow, and ‘voila’ there’s a finished snailvaark


A new ‘vaark is born


Welcome to my world!


These foolish things

Today is 1 April – traditionally associated with practical jokes and fools. I’m not a fan of the practical joke – it seems like a mean way to be entertained, and always at the expense of someone else. As for ‘corporate jokes’, they rarely raise much of a smile; the ones listed in this article in The Telegraph today seem particularly dull. I do, however like a bit of silliness. The world is a better place for us laughing together rather than at each other. So, rather than play a trick on you, I thought I’d share just a few frivolous things that make me smile…


Worm, toadstools, slug, strawberry, Cooey the pigeon and a bacterium

Worm, toadstools, slug, strawberry, Cooey the pigeon, a cup cake and a bacterium

An unexpected gift

A lucet from Linda

A lucet from Linda

Chickens… they don’t come much more foolish than this



Self-patterning yarn

Doesn't look very promising in the ball, but makes fantastic socks and random hexipuffs

Doesn’t look very promising in the ball, but makes fantastic socks and random hexipuffs

The newly invented ‘slippie’

Our slippers!

Mr Snail-of-happiness and me… with toastie toes

And, finally, not foolish, but something that always raises a smile… a lovely sunrise:

Winter sunrise

Winter sunrise

So, what’s making you smile or laugh today?

Oh, and a little addition… these foolish things make me laugh too:

Max and Sam

Max and Sam


Spread a little happiness

Slowly (what else?), the snails of happiness are taking over:

Baby Bear with her snail

Baby Bear with her snail

Thanks to Badshah for letting me use this picture of Baby Bear enjoying her ‘snail of snuggles’. He says it’s her second favorite toy and would probably be number 1 if it had a bell on it!

This is a special baby-friendly snail – completely washable and with no wire in the shell.

Wool week round-up

Here we are on the last day of 2013 British Wool week, so I thought it appropriate to show you what I have made using wool and yarn in the past seven days:

British Wool Week 2013: The results

British Wool Week 2013: The results

The slippers were felted last Sunday; one and a bit of the socks were completed in the past seven days; the bacterium was crocheted one evening, and the chunky shawl was started on Friday evening.  Not an insignificant amount of creativity in a week, if I do say so myself. I did all of the knitting and crochet at the same time as something else: watching TV, listening to an audiobook, attending a meeting or quietly thinking about some permaculture design work.

If you don’t already do it, I encourage you to try being creative when you are relaxing… it’s very satisfying.

And here’s to you Mrs Robinson

A few weeks ago, as a result of reading the story of how The Snail of Happiness was born, Metan suggested that I might like to create a Germ of an Idea. I produced a prototype soon after, but was not entirely satisfied with the pili (hairs). The answer seemed to be eyelash yarn, but I was reluctant to buy a whole ball without doing a test. And here, the wonders of social networking came to my aid – a quick message on Facebook and I had two offers – some oddments of eyelash yarn and a couple of balls of a yarn called Filigree.

As this is British Wool week, I am trying to produce something with yarn or fibre every day, so yesterday I thought I would try a new bacterium. This one is made with oddments of blue acrylic and the eyelash yarn sent to me by the lovely Mrs Robinson. It is Escherichia coli, inspired by a picture by David Mack. I have taken the liberty of giving it a single flagellum with pili (because I like the yarn so much) rather than three without, but I’m quite pleased with the result:

Amigurumi Escherichia coli

Amigurumi Escherichia coli

Basically it’s a sausage shape with every third or fourth round crocheted with the eyelash yarn. I will have to take a slightly different approach with the Filigree yarn, as that has a much finer core so will need to be worked at the same time as the main yarn I think. So, do you think there’s a market for them?!

Having a woolly week

This week, 14-21 October 2013 is UK wool week… I’ve only just found out, but I feel that I got it off to a good start with my felt slipper-making yesterday.

I love sock knitting... especially with self-patterning yarn

I love sock knitting… especially with self-patterning yarn

As usual, I have a pair of socks on my needles, but (a guilty pleasure) it’s not British wool. In fact it’s a yarn made by Opal in the bizarrely named ‘Smokey eyes and coloured lips’ range (shade 6640, if you are interested). I do feel, however, that I should celebrate wool week by knitting something in a British wool, and so I have decided to cast on some yarn from my stash. Specifically, I’m going to start a chunky shawl/poncho in undyed Rowan Purelife Suffolk yarn… it’s a lovely steel grey. In fact, I’m not a great fan of knitting weighty yarns on fat needles (hence my love of sock knitting and amigurumi), but I really want a nice warm ‘personal blanket’ to keep me toasty over the winter and reduce the need for heating, so I’m biting the bullet and going to make a start. I might also get round to perfecting crochet amigurumi bacteria, so I can sell anyone who wants one a ‘germ of an idea‘!

Chunky British Suffolk yarn for a really warm shawl

Chunky British Suffolk yarn for a really warm shawl

A germ of an idea

This post is all thanks to Metan over at Buried Words and Bushwa, who commented on my Happiness and Doom post that as well as having a ‘Worm of doubt’ in my teaching tools, I should have a ‘Germ of an idea’. So, here is my prototype:


Crochet bacterium

He’s a sort of generic bacterium, such as you find in diagrams in microbiology text books (here, for example) with a flagellum (tail) and pili (hairs).

Two lovely friends (thank you Sarah and Kate) have offered to send me some eyelash/fur wool so that I can have a go at making Escherichia coli (like these) , which seem to have three of four flagelli and much finer pili than I have managed, and cholera , which appear to have pili on their flagelli.

I’m thinking I could make a whole compost-heap of micro-organisms!

Just tell me if you think this is becoming an unhealthy obsession…

Happiness and Doom

The worm of doubt (bottom right) and friend

The worm of doubt (bottom right) and friend

‘What a great name for a blog’, people will say to me. I even meet people at permaculture events who exclaim ‘So you’re the Snail of Happiness’ and I have to confess that I am. I realise, however, that many readers don’t know why I chose the name and that there is also a Snail of Doom (that’s the two of them up at the top of the page) as well as a Worm of Doubt (left).

I did blog about the choice of name when I first started out, but I think the story deserves repeating, just so you’re not totally bewildered nor assume that I have a mollusc fetish (although for the knitters amongst you, you might not be surprised to know that my Ravelry name is Mollusca).

At the beginning of 2012 I attended a permaculture course (known as the ToT: Teaching of Teachers) to improve my teaching skills. It was focused on teaching permaculture, but was based on ‘Accelerated Learning‘ techniques, which are widely applicable. I do some permaculture teaching, but I do much more on ecology and conservation – either way, I wanted to enhance all my courses. One of the activities was for each of the participants to teach a short session so that we could get feedback on our technique. I’ve been teaching for fifteen years or more, so wanted to do something new rather than simply delivering a session that I’d done before.

In order to challenge myself, I chose to address a topic that can be difficult because it leaves those involved feeling rather depressed: I decided to teach a session on ‘spirals of destruction’ i.e. how we get ourselves into a vicious circle of negativity by taking small steps in a negative direction. So as not to leave everybody too gloomy I decided, as well, to get the group to think about ‘spirals of abundance’… getting into a ‘virtuous circle’.

Accelerated learning is not a spectator sport – learners all contribute and are actively involved, collaborating with each other in a social setting and constructing their learning in a relevant context. Trying to accommodate all these features, I decided that I would run a group story-telling session. And that it would be good to have some form of ‘talking stick’ to pass round when it was each person’s turn to speak. And thus the idea of the two snails came to me… the snail of happiness for our positive spiral and the snail of doom for our negative spiral, supported by the worm of doubt, who got thrown over my shoulder at the end of the session.

Snail of Happiness and Snail of Doom

Snail of Happiness and Snail of Doom

To make the session relevant to the context, I started the story with there being two weeks to go before I had to do my teaching session on the course and not knowing what to do.  I passed the snail of doom on to the next person, who told the next (negative step) in the story. We worked our way round the group, moving from ‘I couldn’t think what to do, so I didn’t bother’ to ‘there was only a week to go, I still hadn’t done anything’ to ‘so I had a drink’ to ‘and another drink’ and eventually to ‘and here I am in the session and I still haven’t got any ideas, but I do have a hangover’!  We then started from the same origin, but using the snail of happiness and describing positive steps and ending with a successful session (in the story and in reality). It’s a simple way to illustrate a point – getting everyone to engage with a story – but it works.

Telling a story with the snail of doom...

Telling a story with the snail of doom…

In order to run this session, I had to make the snails (two snails that are tactile and mirror images of each other turned out to be impossible to source) and that was when I discovered the art of amigurumi (knitted or crocheted critters). Once made, the snails rather took on a life of their own and I loved the idea of the snail of happiness so much that I used the name for this blog… it seems to be strangely memorable and is, therefore, also the name I have chosen for my etsy shop (coming soon – promise).

So, there you are, that’s the story! And if you need a knitted snail, just let me know!

New snail on the block

The escargatoire (yes, believe it or not, that is the collective noun for snails*) has grown. I think our new recruit will, henceforth, be known as the Snail of Persistence, to acknowledge the decades that it has taken me to learn to crochet.

Introducing out latest addition: the Snail of Persistence

Introducing out latest addition: the Snail of Persistence

There is no stopping me after last week’s course: as well as my usual knitting (a cardigan at the moment), I have made the snail and a pair of fingerless mittens. Finally, I can have a bash at all those crocheted amigurumi that are out there.

Sam, helping me to model my fingerless mittens

Sam, helping me to model my fingerless mittens

As I’ve said, I love to learn a new skill.


* Actually, there are three collective nouns for snails – an ‘escatgotoire’, a ‘rout’ and, bizarrely considering their anatomy, a ‘walk’. I’m not sure which one I like best.

Ecology… again

I have spent the past few days teaching; this time is was an introduction to ecology. This is a course that I have been running for   years now, so I’m anxious that I don’t become bored with it beciase I’m sure the participants would notice. As a result, every time, I try to incorporate something different, whilst still retaining the activities that seem to work best. Even after all these years, we are still playing the predator-prey game that involves sandpaper and blindfolds (you’ll have to come on the course if you want to find out more)! And learners always enjoy going out and looking at habitats in the field – thinking about why they are there and what might influence them. However, there were two new aspects to this offering of the course.

First, I made use of my recently purchased pH metre. We measured the acidity of soil from three habitats – two different woodland areas and two different grassland areas. Trying to work out how the pH values might differ and why turned out to be a really engaging exercise. Next time, I think we’ll dig soil pits too.

Second, I had a new prop: the Loch Ness Monster. I knitted her specially for the course. Again, though, if you want to find out why she appears on an ecology course, you’ll have to come along!

Nessie making her debut on my Introduction to Ecology course

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