Week fourteen: new jeans and sewing machines

A thank you, first of all – to those of you both here on WordPress and elsewhere on social media (and even in real life!) who took the time to read last week’s piece, to share it more widely and to talk to me about it. It meant a lot to me to be able to open the conversation. Thank you!

This has been a learning week – my challenge was to make a pair of jeans for myself. I bought the Closet Case Patterns ‘Ginger’ skinny jeans some time ago and it’s been lurking in my files for aaaaages. I picked up some black stretch denim on EBay – quite lightweight, without too much stretch (2% lycra), and very reasonably priced considering the potential for disaster in the project. There’s a lot of techniques in a pair of jeans I haven’t tried before – not least the fly – so I knew this was going to be a steep curve!

Who knew, for example, how many different pieces there are in a pair of jeans? I know I didn’t have a clue until I cut them out on Monday…

I decided to make view B, which is the high waisted, skinny leg option – I have never bought high waisted jeans, but I also rarely wore bold print clothes until I started making them myself, so I figure I’ll wear these jeans! Before I cut the fabric I used the shortening guide on the leg piece to take out 10cm, which is the usual amount I have to take off all trousers. If I make them again I’ll reduce that to 8 or 9cm for a wider hem at the bottom, as they were only just long enough in the end, resting just below my ankle after hemming.

The pockets went together quite well, except the coin pocket ended up on the left instead of the right (since it’s a pocket I never use, I can’t see a problem with this and would have been just as happy to have left it out), and one of the pocket stays is inside out. I need to put a couple of tacking stitches into the pocket to hold the facings inside as they have a habit of popping out above the pockets themselves. I used remnants of the deep red backing fabric from my red quilt to make facings and pockets, so my favourite colour is on the inside.

The fly was another matter, and I’m really not sure where I went wrong. I followed the instructions as best I could – they really aren’t that clear, and while I frequently say ‘trust the pattern!’ I think next time I’ll be looking out for a sewalong or tutorial to help. My zip is exposed, and the fly shield doesn’t sit over it – but my top stitching is very neat for a change, which I suppose is something as top stitching is one of my bugbears (hence using navy for the jeans!).

The back of the jeans went together well – the yoke gives the waistline a nice shape, and the slight curve on the back pockets is flattering. The pattern gives some helpful suggestions for pocket placements, as – as they point out – every bottom is different. I’ve never been very fond of mine (too flat) so anything that gives the illusion of a curve is a plus!

The designers very sensibly suggest tacking the front and back together to check the fit through the leg before you stitch them permanently together, and I’m glad I did as I had to take in the legs by a couple of centimetres. I was still left with some extra width in the the thigh, so I’ll try and work out how to take that out next time (possibly by grading between the leg and waist sizes on the pattern).

Overall I’m happy with them, and will be making them again – and I’ve also treated myself to the Morgan boyfriend jeans pattern.

The top I’m wearing in the picture above is also a me-made – this time a rub-off from one of my favourite vests. I like the slight shaping on it, and the length. The stripy fabric is another EBay bargain – it was sold as 100% cotton, but I have my doubts. It’s not very stretchy and the stripes are printed rather than woven, but as a test piece it’s worked quite well. If you look closely you can see a seam down the centre front where I didn’t have enough length (I had a metre of fabric) to cut both front and back on the fold. It’s a very stable knit, so putting a seam down the front didn’t take it out of shape.

Here you can see the vest in progress – the rub off, the marked up pattern and my kit (Burda tracing paper, Frixion pens, a couple of Celtic paddlestones from the garden centre for weights, pins, a long steel ruler and paper scissors!) – and the final vest next to the original. Please note the Bee-worthy stripe matching on the vest which I managed on both sides and down the middle.

Thoughts on sewing machines…

Both the jeans and the vest were constructed using my Brother 2104D overlocker for seam finishing, and on a Singer Samba 2 (6211 model) which – looking at the instruction booklet – dates from 1984. My Aunty Jo, who had it from new and who passed it on to me a couple of years ago, has made notes in the back of the booklet detailing what she made and the savings on shop-bought clothes. These are dated around 1986, and I can see she made Liberty print blouses, cushion covers, and did alterations for her son and herself. She was also a painter, and has been in my mind a lot recently as she is in hospital after a fall. I wonder whether this was behind my decision to use the Samba to sew this week?

Aunty Jo’s Samba 2

Sewing machines, it turns out, are like cats and tattoos – it’s almost impossible to stop at one. I am currently at 5, including my overlocker!

My first sewing machine was also a Singer, which I never got to grips with and which eventually expired past resurrection back when I still lived in London. My mum was given it for her 21st birthday in 1965 and she passed it to me as she thought her days of sewing were past and my crafty journey had just begun with my discovery of cross stitch. She was wrong, of course – my youngest sister is an historical interpreter working in schools, museums and heritage sites in Northern Ireland and the top of ROI, and mum has been sewing costumes for her (which reminds me, I have to make a suffragette sash for her!) as well as making curtains for their home in France.

My second sewing machine came much later, when my eldest daughter was very small – this time, it was given to me by my mother in law, as she no longer used it. Again, it was from the 1960s, as we found the original receipt in the case. It’s a Husqvarna Viking 19E, and it had been regularly serviced and much used. I learned to sew on this beauty, and when the drive belt perished a few years ago and couldn’t be replaced as the parts are no longer made I was very sad. I still have it, and have a search alert set up on EBay in the hope that a belt will come up second hand. I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. My mother in law died in late 2012, and this is one of the links I have to her – I was very lucky, as she and I got on well. She was a crocheter, and tried (and failed) to teach me which was one reason I was so determined to learn later.

When the Viking died I was in the middle of a project, so I bought a Brother LS14 – a basic model but it does the things I need it to do, and it’s been used recently to teach Thing 2 to sew. It’s a bit rattly, as it’s quite lightweight, but its reliable and great for a beginner. I started to sew more regularly, and to share what I was making on social media, and suddenly people saw me as somewhere to pass their old machines on to (I have learned to say no now, and to suggest alternative people who might be able to provide a loving home – but if I had the space I would rehome them ALL!). As well as the Singer Samba above, I also have a New Home machine – this one dates from the late 70s, I think, and belonged to a friend’s mum who no longer used it. It’s a good, solid machine and I think I’ll have to get it out soon.

Vintage machines are reliable, but they do need a bit of TLC at times – a bit of oiling, and a bit of a dust – and we are also lucky in this area to have the fabulous Rona sewing machine shop in Waltham Cross. They are helpful, knowledgeable and expert with all sorts of machines – highly recommended if yours needs a bit of a tune-up or if you’re looking for a new one.

My overlocker was a treat to myself – bought in a sale, and it’s been worth every penny.

In case you’re wondering, I have also learned to say no to more cats – three is enough! For the moment….

Level up!

I turned 47 on Friday. I haven’t worried about age since my 27th birthday, when I cried all day.

Why 27? Wayyyyy back in infant school, our teacher Mrs Price asked us for a mental maths exercise to work out how old we’d be in the year 2000. To six year old me, that seemed like a million years away and 27 sounded so OLD. That feeling stuck with me and when I finally hit 27 in the millennium year I had a bit of a meltdown…and no birthday since has ever had the same effect. Perhaps that was my equivalent of a midlife crisis (I hope not).

This year was a bit out of the ordinary, of course, as we’re still socially distancing. I have a large garden, and despite the forecast thunderstorms, my best friend and my London sister came to visit me armed with gin, cake and a sourdough starter which apparently I have to name. Suggestions welcome! It was a lovely gossipy day, sitting in the shade as the promised rain threatened but never appeared, and I felt very spoiled.

One thing about being a maker and a sharer of makes is that it’s rare that anyone gives me a handmade gift, so I was incredibly touched to receive a beautiful hand embroidered card from my colleagues at the museum, with personal messages and art inside. I miss them all very much and am looking forward to going back to work at some point…

Anyway, here is a happy Moominmamma (it was a Moomin themed birthday, as the crew all know my passion for these little hippo-esque trolls) embroidered by Katy:


Another colleague, Alan, used a photo of our Teddy-cat that I’d sent him captioned ‘draw me like one of your French girls’ – and did exactly that. I love it!

Teddy is currently stretched out on the chair in a very similar pose….

I’ll leave you with this week’s cross stitch update! I have always loved this painting – I had a book about it as a child called ‘Take a Good Look with Johnny Morris’ that delved into the people on the Island, and I’ve had a print of it on my bedroom wall for the last 29 years – I bought it at a poster sale in the Student Union in Freshers’ Week and it’s been with me ever since!

Lots of dark blues in this panel!

I’ll see you on the other side of week fifteen – have a great week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

V I Warshawski novels – Sara Paretsky

The Iron Hand of Mars – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week thirteen: in answer to a question

Yesterday a museum colleague and friend of mine asked on Facebook:

“What to think when people I know have not supported the movement of black lives matter. Maybe they don’t want the backlash from friends maybe they disagree. I dunno! Maybe those people could respond as to Why?”

It’s a good question, and my first response was ‘Maybe they are afraid of getting it wrong’, and after a bit more thinking “I think we’re going to get things wrong, but to recognise that is a starting point to work from: ok, I am wrong, but I’m open to being put right.” So, I may get the next few paragraphs wrong, but I hope they are a start.

From 2005 to 2017 I ran the schools programme at the Museum of London Docklands: I was there when the London Sugar and Slavery gallery was opened, and a couple of weeks ago I was really pleased to see the statue of Robert Milligan removed from the quayside outside. It’s worth noting that the statue doesn’t belong to the museum (no one is quite sure who it does belong to, but possibly British Waterways who are the landowners) but we drew attention to him as part of visits to the museum, particularly for secondary school groups, as he led the consortium that built the West India Docks. Those docks – and the museum building, No 1 Warehouse, which was originally one of nine warehouses stretching the better part of a mile – were built on the profits from the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to house the valuable products of that trade, and to ensure that the supply of those products into London was entirely controlled by a small minority of men who saw the way that public feeling was leaning and built a giant walled lock-up, which opened in 1802, to ensure their own pockets were lined long after the trade (if not slavery itself) was banned in 1807. Like a reformed smoker, the British then took it upon themselves to enforce the ban across the world, despite being the nation who industrialised the Transatlantic Slave Trade. London was the fourth largest slave trading port in the world – not one where enslaved Africans were bought and sold, but one from where ships departed on the first leg of the triangle and returned to after the third, supplying the capital with sugar, rum, indigo, and more.

It’s right that we should remember this horrific period in world history – to ensure that, like the Holocaust, it never happens again, but it needs to be taught in context – bear with me before you fly off the wall here. I’m coming at this from my position as a museum educator (and perpetual learner), as a migration educator, and as an adoptive Londoner.

Every September, my phone lines would light up with teachers from all over London and Essex (including from schools and boroughs with high levels of African and Caribbean pupils – Hackney, for example) who started their conversations with the same words: “It’s Black History Month in October, what have you got on slavery?” Because – obviously – Black History begins with John Hawkins in 1562 and ends in 1833 with the abolition of slavery in parts of the British Empire through the good works of William Wilberforce and co. These teachers would tell me that they were playing field songs and spirituals in assemblies and over the tannoy, how they’d reenacted a slave market and so on, or that they were looking at the abolition through the works of Clarkson, Wilberforce and friends. Right there, right there, you can see why Black children are disillusioned – when the only part of your history you’re taught is of violence and subjugation, and that your freedom came only through the work of white people, what else do you expect? And these requests were coming from teachers of Year 2 (6 and 7 year olds) upwards. The indoctrination started early, so we focused on stories of escape from enslavement (Ellen Craft) for KS2. There were no positive role models offered by these school schemes of work, no celebration of Black culture – only the history of enslavement.

So, we became part of the Understanding Slavery Initiative, with a number of other institutions around the UK, to explore how the Transatlantic Slave Trade could be taught with sensitivity and as part of a much wider history – from the pre-TAST Africa to the legacy of the trade. Sadly, this project was an early victim of the 2008 recession and lost funding, but you can find the website and resources here. With this is mind, we built a day aimed at Year 9 which had three parts – a drama which set the whole day in context by exploring the life of a grandfather who had migrated to London in the 1950s through his interactions with his teenage grandson; a sensitively-delivered handling session using replica objects (from beautiful Benin bronze plaques to sugarcane and manacles); and a responsive creative writing session using poems by the wonderful Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison as a starting point who was kind enough to give us permission to use her work. These are poems of resistance, of how African culture survived the Atlantic crossing (never the middle passage – that’s a white perspective) and sustained people through horrific experiences. The day was informed by work with the wonderful Jean Campbell, who gave us perspective. Students would also have time in the London Sugar and Slavery gallery, with resources designed to make them think and talk to each other rather than read labels and parrot information.

I developed a shorter session, called Slavery: London and beyond, which looked at London’s role in the trade and the legacy of that trade – including the Maroons, Toussaint L’Ouverture and the role enslaved Africans played in gaining their own freedom, as well as Windrush and how all these things related to children’s own lives in London today. And we offered these sessions all year – and they booked. And the next year people would phone to book again and say ‘Well, we want to come back but could you not mention rape/brutality/death please? It upset the children’. I can’t imagine that these same teachers phone the IWM for a Holocaust education session and ask them not to mention gas chambers. We’d make a note, and we’d carry on as normal. None of my amazing freelance educators were prepared to whitewash history to make it acceptable.

Things became worse after the publication of the 2014 history curriculum and its narrow framework. Although the examples given in italics were ‘non-statutory’, we knew that many teachers would take these as ‘official’ guidelines. Mary Seacole, admirable and determined as she was, is not the only Black person to have an impact on British history. She was also mixed-race, and her experience as a Black person in London was by no means typical.

I became involved with the London Curriculum project and put forward the idea of a unit on migration called World City – an expanded version of the London Home from Home session I developed for schools, exploring how London came to be the superdiverse city it is today through 2000 years of migration. As a result of this, I ended up working with the History Lessons steering group for the Runnymede Trust exploration into how migration was being taught, alongside such experts as David Olusoga. The Runnymede Trust are a wonderful race equality resource, by the way, with some excellent teaching materials.

I also had conversations with Tony T and Rebecca Goldstone of Sweet Patootee, who are doing brilliant work in uncovering and sharing stories of Black history. All these activities and the people I have met have fed into my thinking about Black Lives. They matter – oh, so much – and I believe passionately that if their stories were built into education (across the world, but starting here in the UK), as part of world history and citizenship then we would be moving towards more understanding in the generations coming up behind us. I want to see Black History Month abolished: it’s tokenism at its very worst. I want to see the legacy of the diaspora spread across the curriculum: rock and roll, blues, ska, fashion, food, art. I want ALL kids to see that Black history is our history too.

I am prepared to be told I am wrong: I want to open conversations, to understand people’s experiences. I want this to be more than a hashtag somewhere on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter. I’m going to share this with my friend who started the conversation yesterday now: I hope she knows how much I do support the movement, even from a position where I can never truly understand. I am prepared to try, though.

And now for something completely different…

I finished the puffin dress, and I’m quite pleased with it – it’s been a while since I have made anything quite this smart, and several years since I have felt the need to fully line anything, so this was a good project for brushing up my skills. Regulars will recall that I made the bodice last week, using the burrito method to enclose most of the seams so this week was all about the skirt.

I started with the skirt lining, and I knew that I didn’t want to add too much bulk to the waistline by gathering it, but equally I didn’t want to lose fullness through the rest of the skirt so I pleated it. I bought these pens a couple of weeks ago and they have been worth every penny – I was able to mark pleats quickly, do some quick working out on the fabric and then the markings just disappeared when I ironed them. There was a LOT of pleating to be done – 20 inches on the skirt front alone had to be taken out, and then the pleats had to be stitched down to keep them flat. I also shortened the lining by 3 inches so it wouldn’t show. The lining is plain cream polycotton fabric.

I used the pocket template from the Sew Over It Tulip skirt to add inseam pockets to the skirt outer, gathered it and finally tacked the lining to the outer before stitching it to the bodice and overlocking the seams together. I found a cotton zip in a mixed lot I’d bought a few weeks ago from EBay which was the exact colour of the stripes (a happy coincidence as I didn’t have a white one!) and although it’s not as invisible as I’d like it to be I like the finished look. Finally, I sewed the centre back seams on the skirt and lining separately, and used a pink bias binding to finish the hem. You can see Lucy my dressmaking dummy modelling the finished dress below. She’s also wearing a fluffy petticoat as that’s how I’ll be wearing the dress – my beloved was at work so I didn’t get to model the dress myself for photos!

Flushed with my success from binding the skirt, I finally finished my red quilt from earlier in lockdown – a wider purple shop-bought binding this time. Perhaps making my own needs to be my next challenge. I have the equipment so there’s no excuse except laziness.

Thing 2 has been busy this week too – she decided she’d like to make some drawstring pouches from the leftovers from her shaggy pants. She made the template herself and I helped her with the buttonholes for the ribbon. I really like them and might make some for myself! She’s also worked really hard on a painting to give to her dad for Father’s Day, focusing for hours on getting it perfect.

Thing 2’s drawstring bags

I felt productive on Thursday and made cinnamon buns (a success) and Anzac biscuits (er, not a success). Last time I made the recipe they fell apart into crumbs, this time they formed an amorphous lump which the family just hacked chunks off. Ah well.

Cinnammmmmon buns

That’s pretty much it from me – I’ve been doing a lot of cross stitching in the afternoons and finished the fourth panel of the Seraut pattern; I tried week 4 day 1 of the C25k and promptly injured my other ankle, and have had a lot of siestas! Thing 1 has been having a bit of a wobble – she was diagnosed with anxiety in primary school and occasionally it flares up. I have been so proud of her through this period, but this week she has really missed her friends. Last night she had a virtual sleepover with some of her cronies, using the HouseParty app, and she seems a bit better this morning.

I’ll leave you with some pics of the garden and some fluffy pollinators in action! See you at the end of week 14…

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

V I Warshawski novels – Sara Paretsky

Venus in Copper/The Iron Hand of Mars (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week twelve: Ready? Run!

Those of you who have poured yourselves into inappropriate lycra and staggered through the Couch to 5k programme will recognise ‘Ready? Run!’ as that moment when your ‘brisk warm-up walk’ turns into the thrice-weekly torture of discovering just how long three minutes can be. I did the programme way back in 2011, after Thing 3 arrived, and by 2015 I had run a half marathon. And then my knees went on strike so I focused on walking, but (here my secondary school PE mistresses and my long-suffering Brown Owl will probably die laughing) I actually missed running. This, from the person whose youngest sister’s name in the register was met by the comment ‘oh god, not another one’ from the aforementioned PE mistresses. Yes, I missed it. I missed hurling myself out of bed at ludicrous hours of the morning: in the week running along the Thames or the Regents Canal, and on weekends through the forests and fields here. I missed the half hour or more of solitude, listening to music and living in my own little world. I even missed running in the rain.

So, way back at the start of lockdown I decided I’d strap my knees up and start the C25K programme again – weeks 1 – 3 went well, and at the start of week 4 my knees were fine but my ankle was not. Stupidly, instead of stopping and walking I decided to try and run through it, and then spent the next month hobbling.

This week, I felt confident enough to try running again. I dropped back to week 2 to start with, but on my first day out I caught up (literally!) with a friend and his daughter and joined in with their week 3. I found it quite easy so skipped back up to week 3 for the rest of the week, and will pick up week 4 tomorrow. My 5-minute cool down walk takes me back through the flood meadow, which has really felt the benefit of the rain in recent weeks. and the grasses have shot up.

Trees are starting to fruit as well, and evidence of conkers and helicopters to come are peeking through the leaves.

On alternate days I’ve been out walking with a friend, with 6am starts as she’s still working. We have been taking some different routes this week and today we discovered an almost buried ‘mushroom’ pillbox – North Weald Airfield, one of the key Battle of Britain airfields, is over the road so there’s a few about the village, but I hadn’t seen this one before. It looks in pretty good condition apart from being very overgrown, possibly as it can’t be accessed by the local kids. My beloved – who grew up here – tells me they used to play in it as children, as well as in old underground buildings on the airfield itself. There are rumours of tunnels that extend towards the old officers’ mess, now an emergency housing site.

The result of all this early morning exercise has been a lot of afternoon naps – I’m now referring to them as ‘siestas’ as that seems to legitimise them!

All this exercise has to do something towards burning off all the calories from home baking! This week has been a week for old favourites – oat and raisin cookies, which have to be made in double batches as they disappear so quickly; American-style pancakes to be eaten with garden strawberries and ice cream; and banana bread.

Pancakes and banana bread always get made on the same day, as once you’ve used 200ml of buttermilk in your pancakes there’s just enough left for this recipe. The pancakes are usually a Sunday treat, so I make two loaves of banana bread – one for home and one for work, as our traditional Monday morning all-staff meetings are always improved by cake.

I use this recipe by John Barrowman – but add either a bag of bashed-up Maltesers, or chocolate buttons/chips. The BEST thing is a bag of mini Rolos. A colleague once said, ‘what sort of deviant adds Maltesers to banana bread?’…. and then he tasted it. Trust me on this, dear readers. I felt quite sad that we had to eat both loaves ourselves this week, but we managed.

This week’s makes…

I mentioned last week that I had cut out the pieces for a Beachcomber dress and a Hot Coffee hoodie, both by MBJM, so they were my first makes.

I wanted to add the front pockets to the Beachcomber dress but didn’t want to do the colour blocked option as I couldn’t face matching stripes, so had to play around with the pattern pieces to see how they’d work and if the pockets would pull the dress out of shape. Luckily they didn’t. After the fact I realised I could have made the colour blocked style and just turned the side panels through 90 degrees as well as the pockets, which would have been easier!

The jersey-blend fabric was quite lightweight and my feed dogs kept trying to eat it unless I babied it through the start of seams, and the twin-needle topstitching would have Patrick and Esme in tears. I ended up overlocking the cuffs, hem and neckline as I just couldn’t face hemming them – but it’s wearable, super comfortable and it has pockets!

The Hot Coffee hoodie was much easier. I used loopback sweatshirting fabric which I picked up quite cheaply on EBay, with a black kangaroo pocket and a black bottom cuff. I chose the self-lined hood option, and added the ‘Thumbs Up’ cuff hack. I sized up as I like my hoodies loose, and I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out. There’s a dress-length option, patch pocket option, and you can either make a cowl neck, a hoodie or a plain round neck – and the pattern is unisex. The kids’ version is called the ‘Hot Chocolate’ so you can kit out the family.

There was even enough fabric left to make a pair of Four Seasons capri-length joggers as well (I won’t be wearing them together!).

Once these were out of the way I decided it was time to start on the Butterick B6318 dress. The pattern is part of their Retro range, from 1961, and I’ve had it in the stash forever. I bought a Julian Charles puffin bedset in their sale, and it’s quite thin fabric so I knew I’d have to line it. I chose to use the striped fabric for the bodice and contrast on the sash and the puffin fabric for the shirt and main sash pieces.

It’s a while since I have made anything that needed a full lining, and I wasn’t sure if I remembered how – but luckily my cousin was having trouble with a facing and sent me photos of her instructions so I used those! I forgot to put the sash pieces on before sewing up the sides, so they aren’t as tidy as they could be, but it’s looking good. The skirt pieces need a lot of gathering, so I will have to pleat the lining to avoid adding bulk, but this has been a good exercise in taking things slowly and making a piece in stages. My task for this week will be constructing the skirt, and I am going to add a bound hem as they look so neat. I have ordered a cerise bias binding, as there wasn’t quite enough fabric left to make my own (though the striped would have looked awesome!) so there will be more flashes of colour.

The cross stitch is also coming on well. I love seeing the shapes of the people emerge like ghosts as I fill in the background!

Garden wildlife

Last week’s baby blue tits and great tits have been joined by a baby blackbird who potters round the lawn for ages. The neighbours have sparrows’ nests in their eaves, so the feeders are pretty busy. And last night the cats were getting quite aerated about something they could see through the bars of the babygate, and it turned out to be a tiny mouse tempted by leftover garlic bread.

And that’s it from me for week twelve! I am off now to nurse my mosquito bites, gained yesterday through my leggings while on a bike ride with Thing 2, her best friend and her mum. Coffee in the park in Epping – it was almost like being normal again! Usually I don’t react badly to mozzy bites, but this year I have had the most horrendous reactions – right now my left wrist and right leg are swollen and painful, and not even Piriton is helping. Ouch!

See you on the flip side of Week 13!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

I finished Jilly Cooper!

Carlotta Carlyle novels – Linda Barnes (I blame early exposure to Nancy Drew for my fondness for girl detectives)

Lanterns and Lances – James Thurber

Audible: Shadows in Bronze/Venus in Copper – Lindsey Davis

Week eleven: mostly trousers

And we’re back at ‘school’ for the final stretch – I have chosen not to send Thing 2 (in year 6) back to school as I feel strongly that it’s too early to do so. The R number is still closer to 1 than 0, the hospitals are expecting a second spike after the half term heatwave (and presumably the mass gatherings in cities over the past few days, though I wholeheartedly support the right to protest against human rights abuses) and I don’t believe that keeping children in ‘bubbles’ is the best way for them to learn. Children – particularly the little ones – need the freedom to play, to explore, to self-select their learning materials, and to socialise with their friends.

(On the subject of the protests, I’d like to see drone footage of the gatherings – there was an interesting piece the other day which showed how the same scene could be manipulated using different lenses and angles to make the viewer think people were ignoring rules.)

I will say that ‘school’ hasn’t been entirely successful this week! We have managed something every day, but that’s all I can lay claim to. Thing 1 has been a bit more enthusiastic as we have had confirmation of her GCSE options, and she’s been allocated her first choices – child development, art, French and media studies – and she now gets to focus on these alongside her core subjects. I wish she’d chosen history, but then I also wish I’d done textiles instead of French – she can always self-discover later if it becomes an interest!

You haven’t mentioned trousers yet…

It hasn’t all been trousers, of course. Monday and Tuesday were all about finishing my Sewing Bee dress. This is a tea dress that my favourite Bee, Liz, made in Episode 1 of the current series and teamed with Doc Martens – the best way to wear a dress, unless it’s with fishnets, Converse and a fluffy petticoat! I’d love Liz to win, or failing that, Matt (who is just adorable), but I suspect Claire is going to swan off with the laurels this year.

The pattern is the Shelby dress by True Bias, which can also be made as a long romper (all-in-one), or short versions of each. I plan on making the long romper as well, in a slightly heavier fabric for winter. I chose the classic short sleeve option and chose to grow them on rather than setting them in as I hate setting in sleeves.

I used a cheap and cheerful polycotton fabric with a cherry print, that I have used before for a pair of Lapwing trousers so I know it washes well – the dress can function as a wearable toile to throw on over the summer, and I can make a ‘proper’ one for work. In terms of construction, apart from the sleeve shortcut, I followed the instructions and it was a straightforward make. My one frustration with the pattern is that none of the panel lengths matched the next one, so there was a lot of trimming before I could turn up the hem. I think I’ll be making more True Bias patterns in the future.

One day my beloved will take a photo of me looking tall and thin! Here I am in my Shelby dress, barefoot in the garden.

The rest of the week was all about the trousers, though, I promise.

First up was the New Look 6859 pyjama pattern for my beloved – this is only the second thing I have ever made for him (the first was a pair of Superhero boxers a couple of weeks ago). He actually requested pyjama bottoms in a sort of ‘well, if you’re making stuff anyway‘ kind of way. Again, these are in an anchor & lifebelt print polycotton which can be tumble dried and requires no ironing – from Pound Fabrics, I think. I hadn’t used this pattern before- they have pockets, and they were supposed to have a drawstring as well as elastic but I just left it with the elastic as my cotton tape was nowhere to be found.

Next, it was a second pair of ‘shaggy pants’ for Thing 2, in 100% cotton (from Pound a Metre, this time). Madam chose the fabric herself, and luckily it was just wide enough to be able to cut the fabric against the grain so the stripes ran horizontally. I was impressed that the stripes look so even across the trouser legs, and almost as well on the outer seams. It’s the same pattern as the last pair, but I decreased the seam allowance to 10mm rather than 15mm in the sides and back for a tiny bit more room for her bottom. (You’ll notice that I try and link to Jaycott’s when I share patterns – I’m not affiliated with them in any way but I do use them myself as they are very reliable and often have excellent sales!)

Finally, it was Thing 1’s ‘shaggy pants but a bit more flowy please mum’ – using Simplicity 1069, version A in crepe-de-Chine fabric. I was put off slippery fabrics a few years ago after trying to make a chiffon kimono when I was quite new to sewing, so I approached this particular challenge with some trepidation – particularly when I realised that the pattern had an invisible zip, pleats in the front AND darts in the back. I was pleased to discover that as long as I supported the fabric while sewing it was pretty easy to handle, and they came together easily. I don’t think I have ever put an invisible zip into anything before constructing the garment but it actually made it very easy, and this might be a hack I use again.

Thing 1 modelling her new trousers – note the DMs!

There’s been very little crochet but a lot of cross stitching – I finished the 4th panel and started on the 5th which is coming along well. Cross stitch was my ‘gateway’ craft and still my favourite to go back to, so having time in my days to focus on it is lovely. I suspect, however, that focusing much more on this is going to require new glasses…each panel has 5607 stitches in 37 colours, and there’s 18 stitches to the inch. It should – in the end – replace the print of this painting I’ve had on my bedroom walls since 1991 when I bought it in a poster sale at the Student Union in Freshers Week. It’s looking a bit faded now.

So, you’ve been indoors all week then!

The weather has changed for the worse, though we are getting intermittent sunshine, and yesterday’s walk was very badly timed! A neighbour and I took our girls out yesterday and found ourselves in the flood meadow just in time for the heavens to open with torrential rain, thunder and lightning – and finally hailstones. We both discovered our waterproofs weren’t doing their jobs…we were so wet that the only thing to do was laugh.

Other walks have been less damp – another walking friend and I have been out at 6am a couple of days this week. One morning we were lucky enough to see a pair of hares in a field, as we walked through to Tawney Common. There’s always a muntjac or two on that route, scampering into the woods, and we usually see some of the Ongar Great Park deer in the fields as well.

One day took us through the park farm as well, past Dial House – the kids call this the ‘witch’s cottage’. We spotted deadly nightshade on the railway bridge and some pretty white irises, as well as admiring the continuing progress of the poppies on the rubble heap.

The weather isn’t looking good for this week, either…

True! I’ve cut out the Hot Coffee hoodie and a Beachcomber dress, both by MBJM Patterns – some fun cat-print fabric for the hoodie and Breton stripes for the dress. I want to try and add pockets to the dress without using the colour blocked version, so we’ll see how that goes. The fabric is quite drapey so I’ll tack the panels on in case the extra layers pull the dress out of shape. I should really have made the colour block style but the thought of pattern matching stripes put me off!

So that’s my week! I’m off to make the sauce for tonight’s lasagne now – one of the few meals that everyone will eat!

How’s your week been?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Silver Pigs/Shadows in Bronze – Lindsey Davis (Audible versions)

And I’m onto the last Jilly Cooper!