84: don’t go down to the woods today (or the park, the fields or the street)

Back in week 51 (It’s not all men, but it is all women) I wrote one of my more serious posts about the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by serving police officer Wayne Couzens, who used his warrant card and handcuffs to make a false arrest under Covid lockdown rules. He was given a whole life tariff as the abuse of his position made this an exceptional case – the first time this sentence has been handed down for a single murder not committed in the course of a terror attack. He was already being investigated for two allegations of indecent exposure in February and some of his colleagues even referred to him as ‘the rapist’.

Sarah’s murder sparked vigils at which women were arrested, waves of light across the country, gatherings and a movement called ‘Reclaim these Streets‘ was founded. Their aim is to use ‘legislation, education and community action to ensure no woman has to be asked to ‘text me when you get home’ ever again’. ‘Educate your sons!’ became a meme and the subject of MumsNet debates, op-ed pieces in the newspapers and so on. In safeguarding training aimed at people working with teenagers incels are being included alongside both Islamic and far-right white radicalisation as things to watch out for.

In just the seven months since Sarah Everard’s murder, Reclaim these Streets have also held vigils for sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman who were murdered in Fryent Country Park after celebrating a birthday in June 2020. For Sabina Nessa who left her home in Kidbrooke in September 2021 to go on an evening out and who was found dead in Cator Park the following day. Men have been arrested, charged and imprisoned for these murders. PCSO Julia James was murdered in Kent as she walked her dog, minutes from her home. And these are just the headlines: how many of these women don’t garner the kind of national attention that these four did?

All four were murdered by strangers to them, despite the police telling us that being murdered by a stranger is statistically unlikely. It’s far from unlikely, it turns out: in the year to March 2020, it was strangers that murdered about 43% of women killed, according to this article. Keep reading that article for the sexual harassment figures. One woman is killed every three days in the UK (source).

This week it was half term, and the first thing I had to do was to ban Things 1 and 2 from going over to the park or the Common either alone or with their friends, and told them to stay out of the fields: a man has been hiding in bushes and frightening women, including a serving police woman who didn’t have her warrant card on her. She was not confident about being able to overpower him to make an arrest so she got her mobile out and pretended loudly to be making a call to someone coming to meet her. Another woman spotted the same man while she was out and joined forces with a third to make sure they both got home safely. He was a stranger to all the women. He could have been local, but equally with the inland border facility now on the airfield he could have been from anywhere in the UK or Europe – lorries are arriving 24 hours a day. Thing 1 spotted another man hiding in bushes in the next village along while she was in the park with a friend. That’s an even smaller village than ours.

I think nothing (usually) of walking through the fields on my own in the early mornings. I train for walking marathons along the public footpaths of Essex and often don’t see another soul, but I make sure I’m aware of any people that do appear and where they are in relation to me, ‘just in case’. I have made the decision this week not to walk alone, which makes me angry. Why should I – or any woman – have to adjust her behaviour and life because someone else has a problem? After Sabina Nessa was killed, a community group handed out ‘advice’ from the Met website (since removed) which again puts the onus on women to avoid getting attacked rather than on the attackers.

How dare someone take away my freedom and that of other women in the village, and prevent our kids from exercising what little freedom they have to play? What right does that – or any – man have to stalk and lurk and strike fear into women wanting only to walk through their local countryside? Educating our sons – and our daughters – will affect the present and the future but what do we do about the people out there already? And how many times do we have to have this conversation?

Feel free to share, to add to the conversation, to get angry. If enough of us rage then something might actually be done. The daughter of my D&D friends was wearing a t-shirt on Thursday night that reminded me how we ought to be, a Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote that describes perfectly how I want my girls (and all girls) to be, and how they should be treated.

What I’ve been reading:

Widdershins/Dreams Underfoot/Moonlight and Vines – Charles de Lint

Moominsummer Madness– Tove Jansson (Audible)

83: where the hell are all the teaspoons?

…and other such middle aged concerns.

Back in the olden days (also known as the halcyon days when a good lie-in meant up in time for brunch, rather than 7am) I would wake up in the mornings, drift to the kitchen, make a cup of coffee and drink it while reading a book in blissful silence. I might have followed that coffee with more coffee and more book, perhaps even while enjoying a bath.

Mornings these days no longer look like this, not even on a Sunday. The only way I can guarantee a cup of coffee in silence is either to get up at 4.30am or, possibly, not to go bed at all. Recently Thing 1 has been waking up early and binging Chicago Med before school, and while I appreciate a hot doctor as much as the next person, I do love my early morning peace. Thing 3 has developed a penchant for asking difficult questions: Am I adopted?* What happens when cheese falls out of an aeroplane? What can I have to eat?

Today, as it was a swimming day and a Sunday, I managed to grab an hour of peace. The coffee ritual has changed so much in recent years. Now I accompany myself with difficult questions: have I taken my drugs today? What did I do with the mug I just got out? Why can I never find a teaspoon in the mornings? (and its corollary, what happened that pack of teaspoons I bought the other day?) Why does my ankle/back/neck/little toe hurt? What was I supposed to remember? Why is that song in my head? And the post-Covid classic, where am I supposed to be today?

I like to think that at least some of these questions will be answered over the course of the day, but I’m not holding my breath. Especially about the teaspoons.

(*no, sweetie, you’re stuck with us)

Sewing b*&!

It’s technical fabrics week here in the atelier studio dining room, with my first attempt at swimwear – a two piece in some funky fish fabric from Pound Fabrics. I chose the Oasis Mix and Match swimsuit by Ellie and Mac, which was one of their ‘wacky‘ patterns a few months ago. Each week they have a selection of patterns reduced to $1, which is about 77p – they also have their bestsellers reduced to $2 and a range of freebies, so well worth keeping an eye on. I have their duchess coat waiting on my to-do list, which is dramatic and swingy and I’m looking forward to swishing about in it when I get round to making it!

I used the print at home PDF pattern option, which has to be stuck together but they have trimless pages and you can also choose to just print the sizes you need which makes it easy to cut out. One reason for making this myself is that I’m different sizes on the top and the bottom, so could mix the sizes up for the best fit for both.

As with all their patterns, the pictorial instructions are step-by-step and really clear, and there’s a good range of options to make. I chose to make version one of the two-piece, with the high waist bottoms and the tie back. The thinking was that a two piece will be easier to get out of after a cold-water swim – I tested it this morning and while it was easy to get off I think next time I’ll make the extended strap version which ties at the front. I used a turquoise power mesh lining and was making it on my basic Brother LS14, which has a very limited range of stitches. It’s a great little machine but is best with wovens. I ended up doing most of the construction on the overlocker because of this, but the elastic had to be done on the Brother which meant a lot of creative cursing.

It’s not perfect but it didn’t fall apart in the lake or the washing machine so I’m counting it as a win!

I also made the Kaleidoscope dress from issue 98 of Love Sewing – dramatic sleeves and a swishy skirt. I used a 100% cotton double duvet cover I’d bought in a sale, with large Japanese-style cranes on one side and a plain dark green on the reverse. I love duvet covers for the sheer amount of fabric you get – eight square metres, so great for circle skirts. There wasn’t quite enough of the crane print for the whole dress so I used the plain side for the bodice, and print for the skirt and sleeves. I added pockets (why would anyone design a dress without them?) and pleated the sleeve head rather than gathering. The PDF pattern left a lot to the imagination – mislabelling pieces (shirt instead of skirt, for example) and very few markings so I wouldn’t advise it for a beginner. This is an issue with a lot of the craft magazines – they don’t appear to have proofreaders (or if they do they need new ones).

The dress went together quickly – I hate setting in sleeves so added them as ‘grown on’ ones, which combines a few steps. The channel for the elastic was a nightmare, and the sleeves really need to be finished better as a result. I wore it to work on Wednesday, however, and it was a showstopper: it needed a belt so I added a burgundy obi-style one, and so many people commented (the sleeves! the fact that it was made of a duvet! the dress!). The cotton fabric gives it some structure, rather than the drapey viscose the pattern recommended, and I’m glad I chose it! I can see this one coming into heavy rotation. I do love a dramatic frock!

And that’s been my week, mostly! Thing 2 had her 13th birthday on Friday, so this week I will be heading into Westfield with her and two of her buddies for a shopping trip, as well as visiting a children’s centre and an arts centre. My beloved is off for half term with them, so I get to go to work. Lucky me….

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Onion Girl/Dreams Underfoot/Spirits in the Wires – Charles de Lint (Newford series)

82: thinking like designers – or possibly chickens

This week I took my new school session out to Thing 3’s primary school to test it on Years 5 and 6 – still playing with blue Imagination Playground blocks, but this time the tabletop version which are definitely easier to carry around. Added to these were scraps of fabrics, pipes, string and other loose parts, building on the work we’ve been doing over the summer.

The session, called ‘Think Small’, is an introduction to user-centred design, helping children to understand the iterative design process, work collaboratively and communicate ideas, and finally to work creatively with materials. These are some of the 5Cs of 21st century skills and are the some of the building blocks for learning in the new museum.

Photo and chickens courtesy of Chinami Sakai

We started by thinking about chickens, and what they need to be safe and happy: brainstorming ideas as a class, and then looking at the Eglu. The chickens in question can be seen above – Mabel, Doris and Tome, who belong to one of my colleagues and who were previously commercial egg-laying chickens. We’re in a relatively rural area, so some of the children already had experience of chickens, and were keen to share their ideas. ‘Space to play’ was the most important thing according to one child whose granny is a chicken keeper. We looked then at the Eglu, a chicken house which was designed to make it simpler to keep chickens in garden and which you can see on the left of the picture.

We moved on to talking about what pets we have at home – cats, dogs, guinea pigs, chameleons, geckos, the odd bird and tortoise, hedgehogs – and how they need different environments. I split the classes into four groups, and each team picked a mystery bag with an animal model. As a team they generated a list of things their animal needed which became their ‘client brief’. They were surprised to discover that they wouldn’t be the designing the home for their animal, but had to swap their briefs with another team. Each group then became ‘animal architects’, looking at the brief together and each child designed a home that they thought met that brief. The hardest bit, we discovered, was when the children had to decide which design from their group met the brief best and would be the one put forward to the ‘clients’. Some groups decided quickly, while others needed some support.

The materials the children were given

The clients gave feedback on the designs and then the architects used the creative kit to build the chosen design, incorporating the feedback, and finally the groups looked at all the designs while the architects talked us through them.

Over the four sessions I refined the format and changed some of the timings, and delivering it to the different year groups allowed me to see how it works with different abilities. The classes are quite small, with less than 25 in each which meant four groups in each session was viable. One thing about working with ‘animals’ was that it gave all the children a chance to shine and share prior knowledge from their out-of-school experience rather than reinforcing classroom learning.

I didn’t let them use sellotape or glue, so they had to come up with other solutions to hold objects together or in a particular shape. One boy shone as a project manager, helping his team realise the design he’d created.

Feedback from the children themselves was entertaining: one of them informed me that he didn’t know DT actually involved ‘making things’, another was keen to find out more about making structures stable. Apparently it’s harder to build than to draw, and it needs more brain power than they expected. Building with blocks takes a ‘lot of thinking’. They were surprised when they had to swap their animals to let other people build their ideas; DT is not just on a computer; and it was interesting to think about what other people need. One asked how long it takes to become an architect, so I’m counting that as a win! One wanted to know if I was really Thing 3’s ‘actual mum’.

Thing 3, of course, was mostly just concerned that I didn’t embarrass him too much…

Meanwhile…

As you can see I have some sewing to be getting on with! My first foray into swimwear, for example: a two piece that will be easier to get out of in the winter swimming. The water was 12.6 degrees this morning, so we’re on our way to single figures. There’s also been cross stitch in the evenings, which I’ll share when it’s finished. See you next week…

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Forests of the Heart/The Onion Girl – Charles de Lint

Comet in Moominland – Tove Jansson (Audible)

81: it’s showtime!

It’s been mentioned before that I’m a bit of a butterfly when it comes to making and crafting: I usually have several projects on the go that can be picked up and put down, taken on tubes, worked on as a way to help me focus in meetings or at D&D games, focused on while the TV happens in the background, that sort of things. These are alongside the ones that need more attention – things with sewing machines or full coverage cross stitches, for example.

So, imagine my delight yesterday when my crafty buddy H and I visited the Autumn Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace – the first live craft event we’ve been to since the Waltham Abbey Wool Show in January 2020, before all those lockdowns. I’ve always liked the autumn one better than the spring one (at Olympia) for the exhibitions of quilts and students’ work. The venue is also pretty amazing, with glorious views over London. ‘Ally Pally’, as it’s known, is one of those Victorian ‘people’s palaces’ which have so much history attached to them: the BBC broadcast from there, it was used as an internment camp during the First World War, there’s an ice rink and a beautiful park.

We started with a plan to work our way around the outside stalls, which took us through (among other things) the Embroiderers’ Guild Members’ Challenge exhibition ‘Exquisite Containers‘. We spent a long time talking to the Guild member watching over the exhibition, admiring her mother’s stunning or nue book covers: after working for many years and bringing up her family, she vowed after retirement that she’d dedicate her time to her craft and did just that for the next 25 years or so. We talked about the loss of creativity in the school curriculum – she had written a stern letter to Gavin Williamson lambasting him about the destruction of the creative subjects.

‘I do believe we are muted’ – Philippa Moggridge

H is a DT teacher which gives us an excellent excuse to talk to people about techniques, and I was keeping my eyes open for makers who were working with up/recycled materials. Maria Thomas’s work ‘Relative’ explored her place in the world as a mother, daughter, aunt, niece etc through mixed media pieces like the Free Range Egg Custard Tart jacket pictured here. These pieces were inspired by the housecoats her mother put on after work to do housework and cooking, to protect her ‘good’ clothes. I loved the way books, vintage packaging and text were blended into the patchwork and quilting. I’d really like to work with her.

Onome Otite‘s textile collages filled us with joy – so much colour and movement in her pieces inspired by Cirque du Soleil, using bright ankara and batik fabrics. There were several stalls selling African wax print fabrics, and when I find the right pattern I have all their cards. Lovely bright reds and yellows called to me, but I resisted.

After the exhibitions we hit the stalls – usually H is a good influence on me, taking lots of pictures of projects we’d like to do rather than buying the kits. Yesterday we were terrible influences on each other, though at least her ‘this will be a Christmas present!’ buying was a good excuse. There are so many lovely kits and fabrics to buy, and you can squish and squash them all you like, and have chats with the stallholders. We got hopelessly overexcited when we saw Matt, Peter, Mark and Raf from the Sewing Bee, especially when Matt and Peter stopped for a photo op with us. I came home with an English Paper Piecing jewellery set, some Foundation Piecing patterns, space invaders jersey fabric (new pants coming up!), some sewing patterns from an indie maker, a lot of business cards, haberdashery bits and bobs and gadgets, a sari silk skirt in my favourite reds, and a Christmas decoration kit which I can only put down to end of day panic buying. We had a go at marbling fabric, admired woodblock printing and mini screen print kits, got carried away by puffins, hares and highland cows, lusted after high-tech sewing machines and storage furniture. I left with a lot of ideas for things I really want to make. Now to find the time….preferably before the next show!

It won’t be this week, for sure: this week I am trialling my new school session in Thing 3’s primary school, and updating a talk about play for a local FE college. My hallway is full of boxes of strange resources like model chickens and miniature blue blocks (as seen in this week’s cover photo), scraps of fabric and laminate insulation. I’m also working on the next birthday present, and playing around with a small crochet bag design.

I’d better go off and do something useful….

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Tales from Moominvalley/Finn Family Moomintroll/Comet in Moominland – Tove Jansson (Audible)

Trader/Someplace to Be Flying/Dreams Underfoot – Charles de Lint

80: umbrellas and Marjorie Proops

There has been a standing joke among the learning team that every time I go out with the play kit I bring the rain. This week I have been out all week in schools and for four out of five days the rain was torrential at times, and on the one day it wasn’t I brought a plague of wasps instead. There’s definitely a pattern forming, and at this rate no one will sign up to work with me next summer! Still, we had a good week and met a whole lot of children at two primary schools in Tower Hamlets, as well as working with games designer Rex Crowle (Little Big Planet/Knights and Bikes) and a Tower Hamlets secondary school to deliver a webinar as part of the V&A’s Upstart Careers Festival. On Friday night – not surprisingly – I was unconscious on the sofa at 7.30pm.

With further rain forecast, my best friend A and I had planned one of our ‘culture and cocktails’ days out – this time to the second of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries. This week marked 30 years since we met on our first day at university in Preston: it still feels like yesterday since we arrived with our parents and our worldly possessions with no idea of where we’d be staying (Lancashire Polytechnic, as it was at the time, wasn’t that organised – a large number of students used to be bussed in from Southport’s Pontins holiday camp until accommodation was found). My first sighting of A was of her throwing a strop in the car park, and then we found ourselves in opposite rooms in the same flat. We’ve grown older (if not up), produced six kids between us, become mad cat ladies, ranted a LOT and supported each other through all sorts of good and bad things. Every so often we manage a day out – not as often as we’d like – and we do love a cemetery.

We visited Highgates East and West back in May, and so this time we went anticlockwise round to Kensal Green. This is the last resting place of people like Brunels (Isambard and Marc), Charles Babbage, Steve Took, the odd royal, a whole lot of political types and thousands of people like you and me. Some rejoiced in the most glorious names: Eudoxia Penemenos, for example, and Andalusia Grant, who we were pleased to find had lived up to her name with an interesting life. The cemetery is also a good illustration of the area’s multicultural make up: Irish, African-Caribbean, Vietnamese, Cypriot, Italian, Greek names and more, and even a stone entirely in Welsh. I was very taken with the stone of David Montgomery Pelham, ‘impresario’, whose epitaph read ‘I would not have missed it for anything’.

The tomb of Andrew Ducrow, equestrian and circus owner, caught our imagination with its sphinxes, bee skep and magnificent hat.

A tradition of our days out is that one of us will be approached by some strange person, and hanging about in graveyards only increases the chances of that. This time it was an elderly gent who’d been leaning into a skip, only to lurch towards us when we approached and start going on about umbrellas and Marjorie Proops (I have just checked and she’s buried elsewhere!) – and then he kept running after us! We thwarted him by striking out cross country, and spent some time wondering whether he was the resident ghost. Highgate has its vampire, perhaps Kensal Green has the old man who got wet and died of a chill, and is doomed to wander the paths for eternity in search of an umbrella….

The cocktails part happened at Parlour, on Regent Street (not that one). We had their weekly seasonal lunch which at £19 for three courses was very good. I had the smoked mackerel, chicory and apple salad to start followed by fillet of sea bream with peppers and almonds, while A had baked goats cheese followed by slow cooked Goosnargh duck with beetroot and blackberries. We both finished up with the artic roll, in coffee dolce and chocolate peanut butter flavour. I had the Kensal Green Tea and A had a Hot ‘Queen’s Park’ Mama and a Lady Cosmo. I think we’ll be back: so friendly and the food was great.

This morning I have been swimming: the water temperature was down to 14.6 and we expect to start the winter swimming season next weekend. I’ve dug out my woolly hat and onesie already!

That’s all, folks – see you here for week 81!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Lords and Ladies – Terry Pratchett

Gobbelino London and a Melee of Mages – Kim M. Watt

Inspector Hobbes and the Common People – Wilkie Martin

Carpe Jugulum – Terry Pratchett (Audible)