Week twenty three: the annual ordeal of the school shoes

It’s the end of August which means the annual ordeal of purchasing the school shoes. And it really is an ordeal: whether you are the parent who has to brace themselves at the cost of the things; the child who has to wear them; or the shop assistant who has to measure about 3,000,000 feet a week at the moment while soothing the shredded nerves of the end-of-tether parent and the child whose idea of school shoes is often very different to their parent’s.

It’s only in the last few years that I have been able to enter a Clark’s shoe shop without having a full blown panic attack, and I had to work up to that via their franchises in the local Mothercare before they were big enough for school. Even now this shop is always my last resort, even though Clarks school shoes are excellent quality and worth every penny.

Let me tell you a story….

Once upon a time, back in the dark ages when I was at school, buying school shoes involved a trip to Cardiff to the Clarks shop to have our feet measured and to buy sensible school shoes. Now, I am blessed (or cursed) with wide feet with narrow ankles and my youngest sister has very narrow feet. Middle sister has middle sized feet. Every year, my Dad would choose this date above all others to Give Up Smoking. This was something we would all have liked him to do (and which he wouldn’t manage for another thirty years or so, as it turned out). He liked smoking (heck, I liked smoking) and by the time I was born in the early ’70s he’d been doing it for about twenty years and it had become a bit of a habit.

So, on a hot August Saturday at the end of the month, when the whole world and their mum were converging on Cardiff to – yes, you guessed it – buy school shoes, we would hop in the car and head to town. By this time Dad hadn’t had a cigarette for about nine hours and the lack of nicotine was starting to show. We would find our way to the multi-storey carpark, where Dad would drive past many, many, many car parking spaces in order to find the perfect one while middle sister became increasingly travel sick. Still no nicotine. Having parked, we would make our way to Clarks.

I dreamed of nice school shoes. I really did. This being National Welsh School Shoe Shopping Day, there would be a long wait for feet to be measured, in the hot, busy shop filled with whinging kids (three of which were his own) and there would still have been no nicotine. His fingers would be twitching towards the breast pocket of his shirt, but he was GIVING UP SMOKING.

The ritual of the foot measuring complete, the real trauma fun would begin: trying to find a shoe that we liked and that both parents thought was suitable and sensible. The cracks would begin to show at this point, as this was an impossible compromise. Dad would be muttering (mostly) under his breath as the parade of buckles, lace ups (these were the days before velcro straps) and classic t-bar sandals grew ever longer. Eventually all three of us were fitted with shoes (“They’re black, they fit, you’re having them!”), and we would leave the shop at speed. Back on Queen Street, in the August heat and the Saturday crowds, my mum would hiss, ‘For God’s sake Robert, GO AND HAVE A CIGARETTE’.

And thus was Dad given tacit permission to smoke for another year. The year I started secondary school I tried to head this off at the pass by agreeing with the first pair of shoes that fitted me. They were absolutely hideous lace-ups, and the heel was so wide that it shredded my poor ankles into blisters so I had to wear horrible heel grips to keep them on. And he still got told to go and have a cigarette.

And that, dear readers, is why Clarks is always my last resort.

My own beloved children have also been blessed with wide feet – in the cases of Things 2 and 3, not only wide but deep, if that’s a thing. I blame their father. We have always had to size up for those two, for this reason, and it does limit their choices. Thing 1 was prescribed Doc Marten boots to support her ankles as she’s hyper-mobile, and her feet haven’t grown since she got them (hurray!).

Last year was simple – 2 and 3 were at primary school and we bought them both plain black trainers: Skechers for the girl and Kangol for the boy. They lasted the year, so that was a win. This year, Thing 2 is starting secondary and has to have black shoes which can be polished. Thing 3 just wanted shoes which didn’t lace up, so it took approximately ten minutes to find a pair of Kangols which fitted. Thing 2 wouldn’t countenance anything but slip-ons (mum, straps don’t go with trousers) so dismissed all Skechers out of hand.

The size 6s were too tight, the size 7s were too big. There were no other shoes. And that’s how we ended up in Clarks.

Can I have a cigarette now Mum?

Spray starch to the rescue

Ever since Liz made a yellow tea dress on the Great British Sewing Bee this year I have wanted a yellow maxi, and with this in mind I bought some yellow pixel-style flower print viscose back in April, which has sat on the pile as I’ve had nowhere to wear a nice dress! The fabric is soft and drapey, and I was really looking forward to using it. The By Hand London Anna pattern has been in the digital stash for ages, and when looking for a project this week I decided to pair the two.

The Anna pattern is very straightforward – no sleeves to add, pleats rather than darts on the front, and a simple panelled skirt with a rather dramatic split up the front. You can cut it to midi length, and I’m sure it would make a pretty above-the-knee too if you left the split out. Before cutting the fabric I shortened the pattern by 20 centimetres – now, I am ‘average height’ at five foot four-ish, so I can only assume they are designing for giantesses. 20cm! The instructions are clear and friendly, with good illustrations, so an adventurous beginner could tackle this easily.

Making the dress, however, was an absolute nightmare. Cutting out the pattern was very hit and miss, despite deploying about a million pins and my new pattern weights, several rocks and a few tins of beans – it moved about with the scissors, stretched out of shape and slithered over the table. I made the bodice – the pleats are a wild guess as marking the fabric accurately was also almost impossible. Then I remembered a top tip I’d seen for working with slippery fabrics – spray starch! That made life a lot easier – I starched and pressed the skirt seams before I constructed it, and did the same with the zip and hem.

Flushed with the success of my starchy sewing hack, I decided to try another hack to put the zip in – using sticky tape to hold the zip in place instead of pins, given how much this fabric moved about.

NEVER AGAIN. My needle hated it – it skipped stitches, gunked up, on three occasions actually snapped. The thread snapped. I snapped. It took forever to get the zip in and I think the kids learned a few new words as well.

Anna dress

Eventually the dress was done. The hem – starched to within an inch of its life and made with the help of the Clover hot hemmer – was the easy bit in the end. You can see the frock on my dummy above – luckily it looks better on me than it does here! Since the weather has changed dramatically in the last couple of days I’ll be styling it with DMs and layers rather than sandals, but grunge is always my winter go-to so that’s OK. If I make it again I will size down, I think.

My second make of the week was much easier – I saw a pattern on a sewing group on Facebook and fell for it. Thumbhole cuffs? Hood? Pockets? Yes please!

I’ve had a lovely Moomin print jersey in my stash for a while – a bargain from Ali Express – and I was saving it for a pattern that would show it off. This Double Down Dress from Little Ragamuffin was it. I had enough Moomin fabric for the front and back centre panels, the sleeves and the pockets – with some black jersey for side panels and the hood, it was perfect.

The pattern has three neckline options, an open back option, inseam pockets (and there’s a free patch pocket hack on the LR website) two hood options, three cuff options, three different lengths and at least four sleeves to choose from. It also has options for different cup sizes so you don’t have to do a bust adjustment if you’re blessed with boobs (I am not). I bought the pattern bundle with the Vegas sundress so you can also layer the two.

I chose the assassin hood style, and chose not to line it as the fabric is quite lightweight, the above-the-knee length, inseam pockets and the inseam thumbhole cuffs. Again, the instructions are pretty straightforward and if you’re printing from a PC you can use the layer option to print the size you need.

Using the overlocker for most of the construction meant that it was speedy to make up – the inseam thumbhole and the hem do require the sewing machine, but that was it. It might possibly be my new favourite dress and with so many options I can tweak different versions. I love the flared skirt.

Happy hooker

I finished the custom dolls this week and handed them over – they are quirky portraits of a couple who live some distance apart. My brief was to make the girl doll ‘witchy’ which was fun! The basic pattern is the Weebee doll (available on Ravelry) and my customer is a member of an RPG group whose DM had already commissioned character dolls for me (his was a Cyborg!). I loved doing these – adding the little details like the beard, the temple greys and the girl doll’s short fringe made them really personal.

Mini-Joe and Mini-Kat

It’s also cool enough now to pick up a blanket project – I am working on the Coast blanket from Attic24 (started in 2017, oops) in double bed size. You can see it in this week’s cover photo.

Autumn is on the way…

This week’s swim was definitely on the bracing side – the water was 18.5 degrees on Friday morning and we swam in the rain as the weather was very changeable. We’d earned the hot chocolate we indulged in afterwards! I am looking forward to winter swims though.

My beloved and I dragged Thing 3 out for a ramble around the Common one afternoon – we were lucky enough to see a large group of deer, but we are sad about the devastation the landowners are wreaking as they clear the brambles and trees. The feeling is that building on the land is now inevitable, which will leave a lot less space for wildlife. I can’t believe they have started the clearance while birds are still nesting – we have another set of baby blackbirds in the garden, looking ridiculously scruffy and grumpy – and they have grubbed up the area around the badger sett too.

I made the first of this year’s apple cakes, using eating apples from the garden. The recipe was my late Aunty Ruth’s and it’s delicious with butter – hot or cold.

Aunty Ruth’s apple cake

My furlough comes to a part-time end this week – I go back remotely three days a week for September, and four in October. The children start going back to school on Thursday – Things 2 and 3 this week, and Thing 1 goes back the following week. The uniforms are labelled, the PE kits are sorted and the school bags are packed.

Let’s see what week 24 brings! Who wants to guess how many emails are in my inbox?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

The Dresden Files – Jim Butcher (I’m up to #5 now)

Three Hands in the Fountain – Lindsey Davies (Falco series – Audible)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s