Week five: school, sewing and sunshine

I’ve often described my working life as like a rollercoaster we get on every Monday and get flung off every Friday, exhilarated but exhausted – like Diego the sabre-tooth tiger in Ice Age after he comes down the ice slide. I’m upgrading that to the waltzers, I think – you think you’re moving fast and then someone comes and spins you in the opposite direction entirely. All you can do is hang on… that’s what Monday was like! A morning of catching up with a week’s worth of emails, followed by a frantic team meeting and then three hours of preparing to lock down for the next couple of months. Furlough means we are forbidden to do any work for the museum at all, so we had to make the most of Monday!

All this while trying to convince the Horde that it really was the start of term and it was time to get back to routine. (They all got dressed, so I counted the day as a win….) Anyway, I – along with most of the museum – am now furloughed for the next couple of months unless the situation changes rapidly (anything is possible these days) and the relief this news brought was huge. I have written before about the stress of trying to be’work me’ and ‘mum me’ at the same time, when it feels as if I am failing at both, so this means I can try and get one right at least.

Time to slow down and enjoy time at home – bluebells on a local lane

So, it’s back to SPAG and fractions (I’m sure there was more to maths than fractions!), story writing using some strange acronyms (DADWAVERS, anyone?) and Hitler’s Germany which is Thing 1’s history topic. We’ll stick to the format we were using before Easter, as that gives us time for creativity in the afternoon.

Doesn’t furlough mean more making time, too?

It does! It’s been a productive week, too, with a bit of upcycling, a bit of fixing, a bit of making and a bit of crochet.

In the mornings while I have been working with the children, I have been repairing the hexies in a lovely crochet blanket – I made it, and used the magic ring to start all the hexies but all of them have started to come undone. I used this very helpful tutorial to fix them, and will go back to the chain method to start these things in future.

Thing 1 requested a wrap skirt, as she had seen one on Instagram – rather than buy one, I knew I had a few wrap patterns. She chose New Look 6456 in style D, and I had some lovely polycotton with daisies and dots on. It was pretty straightforward to make up, and now I have a happy daughter.

Thing 2 – who usually flatly refuses to wear hand-me-downs – will NOT give up on a stripy dress which my sister bought for Thing 1 when she was about 5. She’s been wearing it as a top with shorts for the last couple of years, but it’s finally got too small. So, she asked me to make her a crop top and mini skirt out of it to get another year’s wear – we cut round the waist seam, added elastic waistbands and she’s happy again! She’s now requested pyjama shorts, which she’s going to help me make, and ‘Shaggy pants’. Apparently she means wide trousers like Shaggy in Scooby Doo – so it was back to the pattern stash where she found another New Look pattern and a quick browse on Pound Fabrics where we found some pretty cotton.

The pyjama shorts request sprang from watching me whip up a pair from the remnants of the wrap skirt fabric. I used a pattern by The Makery, which was a freebie with Simply Sewing magazine a few years ago. I used elastic rather than the drawstring, for ease, and they are perfect with a vest for this hot spell. While searching the stash I rediscovered the Lapwing Trousers pattern by Simple Sew and once madam had rejected the ditsy blue flower fabric I offered her, I decided I’d make another pair for myself. There’s nothing like a pair of floaty cotton trousers for hot days. (Other things I have rediscovered this week: my hammock, Bloom Strawberry Gin and Fevertree Elderflower Tonic, and stargazing in search of satellites and meteors).

The table tennis table is still up in the garden and it’s so useful for laying out large patterns and quilt tops, even when Thing 3 decides to open a market stall at the other end.

I sandwiched the red quilt top (the wadding was a bit of a patchwork too) and quilted it together, and its now awaiting binding. I’ve decided to use ready made bias binding on this one, and am waiting for it to arrive. The second image is the big make of the week – I volunteered to be a pattern tester for Alice and Co Patterns, who are extending their size range for the Intrepid Boiler Suit. I ran across Alice and Co when they did an updated versions of the Mary Quant Georgie and classic minidress to accompany the Quant exhibition at the V&A.

I love an all in one, and had just bought their Jump Up Suit pattern – I would probably not have tried the boiler suit if they hadn’t asked for testers. I’ve looked at boiler suits but never had the courage to buy one – this seemed like the perfect solution! I’d also just bought several metres of gorgeous lightweight pinstripe denim (Pound Fabrics again) and now I had an excuse to use it. Luckily they let me join the tester team…

The PDF pattern was really straightforward to put together (if I ever win the lottery, the first thing I am buying is an A0 printer and a garden studio to put it in), and the instructions were really clear and easy to follow – even the enclosed yoke, which I have only tried once before. It really was a case of trusting the pattern, and the resulting yoke looked great.

I’m a great one for taking sewing shortcuts, especially with zips and sleeves – I hate setting in sleeves – but as I was testing the pattern I thought I’d better do it properly! The process became quite mindful, as I had to think about what I was doing more carefully and pay attention to the finishing. The only step I skipped was finishing the raw edges before sewing, as I decided to overlock them as I went along. I even overlocked the zip tape to the seam allowance.

The back and breast pockets were cut against the grain so I could have the pinstripes at a contrasting angle, and the side pockets were perfectly (if accidentally) pattern matched. I decided to make a self-fabric tie belt to go through the waistband casing, rather than use a proper belt, and used fabric scraps to patch one together as I knew no one would see the seams!

The making process took me about six hours, plus time to stick together the PDF and cut out the fabric, and it was thoroughly enjoyable – and I LOVE the result. I made my beloved take a proper photo of me wearing it with my Lottas just so I could share it… it also shows off my new ultra-violet hair, or so it says on the box. I may make the legs a bit shorter, as here you can see I have had to fold them up four times, but I love the 80s girl group vibe. There’s also a free pattern hack on the website for a button front version, and I quite fancy a sleeveless one too, so will definitely be making this again.

You can’t have spent all week sewing, surely?

I mentioned earlier that Thing 3 had decided to open a stall on the table tennis table – there’s a touch of the Del Boy about this one! He sold bric-a-brac, and not to be outdone Thing 2 decided she also needed a stall. I had bought them some new acrylic paints, so her USP was painting rocks on request. I had some tiny pebbles that we’d sprayed white with primer, and she painted me a set of ladybirds for my shelves of frivolity in the shed. She also painted me – secretly – a puffin rock, as they are my favourite birds. Thing 3 helped his dad improve the water feature – here you can see him taking a well earned break!

Having been inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee, I painted some rocks to use as pattern weights – very useful when cutting outside! I usually use chunks of slate from the garden centre, but these pebbles have been hanging around for a while and now they’ll see more use.

Pattern weights drying in the sun

I have even managed some gardening! Hard pruning some hydrangeas transplanted from the neighbours last year, which are showing signs of life, and weeding out the wild garlic from the beds by my shed. I was really pleased to see the campanula survived the winter, and also the bleeding heart we bought at the sad plant section last year and which I snapped the stems off when planting out – it’s got flowers on and I hope it will self-seed. My hollyhocks are shooting up again, and my chinese lanterns.

Not such a sad plant!

The hammock has seen some use, too – crocheting and listening to birds in the afternoons. The BirdNET app has been so useful – I now know what the goldcrests sound like, and the chiffchaffs. The red kites seem to have stuck around, and I see them wheeling over the houses quite often. Other garden visitors have included the fox, the badger and a tiny mouse.

Let’s see what week six brings us! Have a great week.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Plan for the Worst (Chronicles of St Mary’s) – Jodi Taylor

The Language of Spells and The Secrets of Ghosts – Sarah Painter

Soundtrack for the week:

John Mellencamp, Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Prine

Week four: busy doing nothing

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in lockdown (of a sort) for four weeks already…or that it’s the end of the Easter holidays so the Horde and I will be back to work tomorrow. My email inbox is already filling up with work for them to do, sent by their teachers, who are clearly superhuman.

People cavil about the amount of ‘holidays’ teachers get, but from my own days at the chalkface I know that the majority of those holidays are spent marking, planning for the next term, prepping their classrooms and (usually) being ill. All these teachers (who have just worked through their breaks) are as much in need of applause as the rest of the key workers. On that note, we did remember to join in the applause on Thursday at 8pm – I haven’t seen so many of my neighbours for weeks! The noise was amazing and a passing ambulance beeped as it went along the main road.

But what did you do all week?

I have had a very lazy week with the Horde! My sort of lazy, anyway…

I’ve been able to stay awake in the evenings long enough to do some crochet, and on Wednesday I sent off a Frontline Hero bear to a little girl whose Daddy has been in our local hospital with Covid-19 and who has been very brave. Several friends sent me links to this pattern on Facebook (definitely an improvement on some of the things I get sent!): it was really easy to follow, and the scrubs/bear colour can be adapted to suit either your stash or your local heroes. You can find the link in my week 2 post, or just search ‘Frontline Hero bear’. I chose this bluebell colour in Stylecraft Special DK as I happened to have some handy. I sent off four pairs of real-people scrubs in a very similar colour to a mental health trust in East London, too, which I hope arrived safely.

Bear ready for action

I discovered how mindful unmaking can be as well. My first pair of crochet socks – before I got the hang of tension – were beautiful but too tight for even Thing 1 to wear, let alone me and have languished in a box in the shed for several years now. They surfaced this week while I was trying to resist all the Easter sales emails from yarn companies by seeing what I already had in my stash, and I decided to unravel them so I could remake them to fit.

You need patience to unravel an item that’s been very tightly worked, freeing stitches and rewinding the yarn without it tangling. I spent an afternoon in a hammock in the sunny garden, listening to the new fountain burbling away (my beloved made me a fountain in the old bird bath!) and carefully unworking the socks. I now have two beautiful balls of Drops Fabel yarn, which is lovely to work with – I just need to decide what to make!

Spending time in the garden gave me the chance to watch a pair of red kites soaring overhead – new to the village this year – and a pair of goldcrests. These tiny birds live in the pine tree along with the nesting collared doves, several families of blue tits and even a bat or two.

Mindfully unmaking some socks

The Horde got creative, too – they love working on canvases, and when they are bored with them we repaint them with white emulsion and reuse them. Thing 1 is hoping to do GCSE Art next year so is experimenting with perspective, Thing 2 likes white space and we gave Thing 3 a box of pastels to try as something different and he drew a giant Pikachu. Pokemon are enjoying a bit of a revival in our house at the moment. I really love the way Thing 1 has painted the clouds in her picture.

They spent a happy afternoon outside getting messy! Thing 3 also made a TV for the treehouse out of an Amazon box, and Thing 2 made a squirrel picnic table out of offcuts of wood after we had seen a social media post about them. The badger and the fox also appreciate the table, as it turns out.

There’s been a lot of baking too – bread rolls, dough balls, Melting Moments (Dad’s favourite), homemade pizzas and chocolate brownies. We made a foray to our local farm shop earlier in the week on a quest for flour – getting in the car and going somewhere felt quite adventurous.

New challenges

I decided that since the overlocker was out for making scrubs, I’d try some new patterns – my go-to working at home outfit is a tunic/tee dress and leggings, and while I am not quite ready to sew leggings I did have some lovely striped lightweight jersey that was calling me.

I searched the stash of sewing patterns and came up with ‘The Staple Tee’ which was a freebie with Simply Sewing magazine aaaaages ago. It could be made as a t-shirt or a dress, so I went with the longer version. The pattern had grown on sleeves, cuffs on the sleeves instead of a hem (I hate hemming sleeves) and a slightly curved hem. Super easy to make, especially with the overlocker. I think if I make it again I’ll grade the bodice down a size as it’s very wide, but I really like the elbow length sleeves.

‘The Staple Tee’

I used the remnants of the stripey fabric to clone my favourite Hema skirt – tube skirts have been part of my wardrobe for years, for layering with leggings, and you can never have too many. I used brown paper to trace off the original skirt, added seam allowance and then whizzed it together with the overlocker in about half an hour (most of that was doing the waistband).

I wanted to try a raglan tee-shirt as well, which I’ve always been fond of but haven’t tried making before as the sleeves looked tricky. I found a pattern online by Greenstyle Creations, an indie pattern company I haven’t heard of before, and it also had an add-on pack for a cowl neck or a hood, as well as lots of sleeve options in the original pattern (to cuff or not to cuff?).

I went with the hoodie option, and 3/4 sleeves (no cuff), and used cotton elastane jersey in black and royal blue. Apart from when I did exactly what the instructions warned me about – stitched one of the hood sections on upside-down and had to unpick – and when I had to unpick all my topstitching on the hood (twice) when my tension went awry, the pattern was really easy to follow and the result looks great. The fit is perfect – a good length, which as a long-waisted person is often an issue, and the hood is wearable rather than cosmetic. I can see this becoming a staple make too, in lighter weight jerseys for layering.

Centerfield Raglan Shirt

I’ve cut out a wrap skirt for Thing 1 and some pyjama shorts for me, too, from a lovely polycotton fabric with dots and daisies on a black background – the fabric was from the stash. I have made the shorts before, last time by upcycling a duvet cover, but this time I’ll use elastic at the waist instead of a drawstring. The wrap skirt was a request – she saw one on a shopping site and I knew I had a pattern somewhere!

That was my week! I’ve been determined about not turning on my work phone or logging in to check emails, so there’s probably about a million waiting for me tomorrow morning but tomorrow – as Scarlett O’Hara said – is another day.

I’ll leave you with one of our more unusual garden visitors, who found himself in the new fountain the other day. He gave me an excuse to resurrect one of my favourite jokes….

This is Tiny….. he’s my newt!

And on that note I’ll leave you for another week – hope yours was as enjoyable as mine!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Crow Investigations (series of 3) – Sarah Painter

The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hiro Arikawa (I cried)

Under the Paw: confessions of a cat man – Tom Cox

Week 3: not a fronted adverbial in sight!

The Horde have been on school holiday this week, and their Dad has been furloughed so this week has been a lot more relaxed – at least for them! I have still been working, but have been (mostly) able to do just one thing at once. I’m still focusing on the potential for makerspaces and project based learning, reading and thinking about what’s manageable and possible to test over the next couple of years.

There’s been a lot of meetings via MS Teams, and I am finding them more tiring than being in a room with all the same people. I mentioned this over on Twitter the other day, and some wise people shared their thoughts with me about the extra cognitive work your brain is having to do to remember you both are and aren’t in the same room as people. My sister shared this link with me, which was interesting. Both this one and another that our museum director shared liken what we are experiencing to trauma, and the stress of being in a situation out of our control. I think we are all also very aware that we don’t know how long this lockdown will go on for, and that there is so much uncertainty about what the ‘new normal’ might look like.

One Teams meeting was delightful, though – an end of week chat with two lovely colleagues over a virtual drink – there should be more of this, and it was good to have a conversation with other adults that didn’t come with an agenda…

Walk this way….

One of the ways I am managing my own mental health is to keep walking – on Tuesday I was so tired when I woke up that I didn’t start the day with a 6am ramble, and the impact on my mood was surprising.

Despite not being able to set my usual pace due to last weekend’s running injury, just that 45 minute walk has a calming effect across the whole day. It helps, of course, that we are in the countryside but even when working I try and get off the train a stop early and walk along the canal towpath to Victoria Park.

Slowing down to hobbling pace has also forced me to look around a bit more as I go! It was suggested the other day that this seems to be a bumper year for blackthorn (so we’ll be making sloe gin later!) and it’s true that the Common is white with blossom.

Thing 2 – an early riser like her mama – has joined me the last three days, and it’s been a time for her to ask big questions about the things that worry her, and for us to have some peaceful time together. She loves to spot animals, and was thrilled today to see a tiny mouse as we came back through the forest.

Holiday activities

The weather has continued to be most un-bank-holiday-ish, treating us to days of baking sunshine instead of the torrential downpours we usually associate with school holidays. My beloved has been working in the garden, planting all sorts of vegetables and pulling weeds out of the ground, and Thing 2 has been joining in. She has shown a lot of interest in germinating fruit seeds – actually googling how to do it properly rather than shoving them in some earth and hoping for the best which is my usual method. We have a set of little orange trees that are now about 6 inches high, and a few apples and a plum underway. Thing 3 helped make a rack to put seedlings in, having a go at sawing wood and helping screw things together. All the wood in the garage that my beloved kept in case it came in useful has – yes! – come in useful.

Expecting oranges in about 5 years…

What’s Thing 1 been up to? She’s mostly been asleep, but she did let me cut her hair earlier this week – the thinking was that if I did a really bad job then lockdown means it has time to grow out. I can’t remember the last time she let me cut her fringe.

Once again there has been a lot of baking – the delight when I landed the last bag of flour in the Co-op was quite ridiculous. The highlight has been hot cross buns, of course, but we have also made rocky road cake, more flatbread and pancakes for breakfast.

My to-do list hasn’t seen much action, sadly, but I have cut out four sets of scrubs which will be going to a mental health trust in East London, and made up one of those sets.

Saturday was spent making ‘ear savers’ – the elasticated masks that medical staff wear hurt their ears as they are wearing them more often, so I whipped up some of these little gadgets and sent two dozen off to a friend who works in the maternity unit in our local hospital, for her to use and pass to her colleagues. They are super simple to make, and a good way to use up scraps. I won’t deny that an afternoon in the sunshine sewing buttons on was lovely, too…

Ear savers!

I put a plea out on Facebook for anyone who had buttons to spare to share them with me so I could make more of these, and the response from both friends and people across the village was amazing. So many buttons – people were going through their button boxes and popping them through my letterbox all day!

I have booked this week off, and am looking forward to spending some relaxing time with my family, pottering about and making things. Hopefully you all have something nice planned for the bank holiday at home!

See you at the end of week (signing off just as another package of buttons have arrived….)

Kirsty x

Week two: reality bites

Here we are at the end of week two, and cabin fever hasn’t quite set in yet – though I think the novelty of being at home has definitely worn off for the Horde. They are missing their friends, especially as we can see and hear some of them over the garden between us, and they are used to being in and out of each other’s houses. Limiting screen and chat time is frustrating for 13-year-old Thing 1, too, as she is used to working with her friends at school.

I – like so many other parents at the moment – have a renewed respect for teachers (and I used to be one!). In my case, it’s down to the really hard sums and various parts of speech that Thing 2, in Year 6, is expected to know. I got 1% on a fractions test in Year 7 and my relationship with them hasn’t improved over the years, so to be confronted with ratios and lowest common denominators and so on was a bit of a shock to the system. We muddled through, I think.

I have kept to my 7 – 2 working pattern, apart from the odd afternoon meeting (Thing 2: “They aren’t the people you usually talk to! Do you even know them?” – at least the internet safety chat has sunk in) which gave us the chance to try some new recipes. Thing 1 made gnocchi for lunch one day, Thing 2 made chicken, mozzarella and pesto filo parcels, and Thing 3 made cornflake cakes. 1 and 2 managed to make bread together one afternoon without all-out combat, and we tried making flatbread to go with meatballs too. I convinced them to eat cauliflower (#winning). All three of them have been painting, helping their dad in the garden (I think he is hiding from the chaos) and enjoying the sunshine.

Thing 2 and her latest creation – a gift for her nephew

When not negotiating tricky fractions or the perfect tense, I have been exploring the value of makerspaces for children as a way to increase their creative confidence – one book, The Nerdy Teacher Presents: Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces by Nicholas Provenzano, had me thinking about the potential for this way of learning as part of the planned school residency. It also has AWESOME geeky pop culture references.

As someone who was always encouraged to try things, to potter about as my dad built stuff in the garage, I think opportunities to make – to make things, to make mistakes, to go back and explore what you did wrong – are vital to children’s development and the growth mindset that’s so important to making it as a human being in the 21st century. It’s not something that can be tested in a SAT at Y6, for example, although project outcomes can be, so allowing children to fail has been off the agenda – children have been spoonfed knowledge and test content, which is great for school league tables but hasn’t done a lot for the children themselves. Project based learning is definitely on my mental agenda at this point, and how that can be condensed into a museum context, when our time with the students is limited.

Easter holidays start now

As the head of this here school, I declared an Inset Day on Friday so we started our break a day early.

Tuesday was a difficult day

Part of the reason for this was for the sake of all our mental health. Thing 3 has been quite unsettled, sleeping badly and having nightmares, which – as a very pragmatic little soul from the day he arrived – is very out of character. I also had a very bad day on Tuesday: one of the worst I have had for a while, with high anxiety levels and very low mood.

I am missing my daily commute: for me, this was a decompression between work and home, a chance to stop being ‘work me’ and be ready to be ‘mum me’. That hour of audio books or music and crochet makes a huge difference to my mental state. I’m usually pretty good at multi-tasking, but trying to be both my ‘selves’ at once is proving challenging at times. Still, no more SPAG and maths for a couple of weeks!

And hey, who am I kidding – I miss being in work as much as the kids being in school. I love my team, and the office dynamic – having people to throw ideas around with, chats over boiling kettles and seeing all our lovely visitors. I get great joy from my work – interacting with teachers and children, seeing the wonder on the faces of our smallest visitors. Although the Teams app and Zoom are good for seeing faces, the spontaneity isn’t there. It’s been lovely to have the odd chat with colleagues which didn’t come with an agenda, and I definitely feel the lack of the lunchtime walks to Victoria Park to see the dogs and ducks.

It’s hard not being able to see friends, too – the other people in the village, and also my nurse friends who are on the frontline at the moment. One lost a colleague to Covid-19 this week, and we can’t reach out and cocoon her. She is quite naturally angry that people are ignoring the rules – the scenes in Epping Forest and other parks this weekend have proved that people are not taking this crisis seriously. My parents, in France, are in full lockdown and I wonder how long it will be before that has to happen here too – 90% co-operation and 10% enforcement doesn’t seem to be working.

I am still running (or I was until my Achilles tendon did something odd yesterday at mile 3) but going out at 6am, when the only people I am likely to encounter are distant dog walkers. I see a lot of rabbits, too, and was lucky enough on Monday to spot a herd of about 30 deer grazing on the common.

A very fuzzy picture of deer….

How’s that to-do list coming on then?

It’s actually been quite a productive week!

Today I spent a few hours in my shed, sorting through fabric remnants – a lot of cotton left over from various projects was donated to a woman in the village who is making fabric masks. She is not charging for them, other than to cover materials. I know they have been in demand, so the fabric has gone to a good home (along with some sewing patterns I know I won’t use!). Some yarn also made its way down the road to a friend’s daughter who has caught the crochet bug.

I’ve managed to tick two things off last week’s list! One, the purple jacket, only took about an hour’s work so I have had no excuse not to finish it before. I am not sure I followed the pattern instructions but it looks OK, so I am happy.

The purple jacket – Patterns by Gertie for Butterick.
Purple gabardine lined with taffeta – it’s sooooo soft.

The second finish was the Attic Windows quilt. I wanted to back it with a red fabric as a contrast to the navy, but couldn’t get enough as there has been a run on polycotton fabrics for hospital scrubs (I have signed up to make some for one of the local trusts, who are desperately short of them – one of my nursey friends tagged me in a Facebook post, and today I washed and dried lots of fabric so I can get started in the afternoons this week). Where was I? Oh yes.

I decided to add a border of red rectangles to get the contrast, and then repurposed one of the kids’ old duvet covers to make the back. I cut it in half and then turned one piece through 90 degrees and stitched them together to get enough width. I also added applique cats – they look quite small at the bottom of the quilt, but the perspective of the night sky is probably what the world looks like to cats anyway, or so I like to think!

Ready for quilting and binding

Another project that shouldn’t have taken as long as it did! The first 25 blocks were hand sewn on the Central Line, which started a lot of conversations, and then a woman in a quilting fabric shop told me I was doing it all wrong, so I felt all disillusioned and put it away. For 12 years. The other 35 blocks were machine sewn last week, as they were all cut out, and I can’t tell which ones are which for the life of me from the front. So, nuts to you, lady in the quilting cotton shop.

The finished quilt has been submitted for inclusion in a book about making at home during the lockdown (more here: https://wideopensea.co.uk/athome/). It’s not perfect and I now see why you start quilting from the middle, but I am happy with it – I am also happy that the process of this caused Thing 2 to want to learn to sew.

Because it’s totally impossible not to start new projects, as well as signing up to make scrubs I also put together another quilt top – only to use up the squares, honest!

Using up charm packs.

I’ll also be making a few of the Frontline Hero bears for some friends, I think.

And that’s it from me for the week – here’s Bailey, doing what cats do best. Same time next week!

Kirsty x

“If it fits….”