You find me at the end of a week off, in which I have done very little that was useful but a lot that was good for my soul: afternoon naps, long walks with friends, family and dogs, relaxed coffees, crafting, reading and a bit of cooking. My beloved claims that there is no such thing as a day off, but that is because he takes Monty Don’s ‘Jobs for the weekend’ section to heart as well as all the other things that a garden requires. I, on the other hand, am of the opinion that if you take a day off the jobs (and the garden) will still be there afterwards and the weeds probably won’t have taken over the world. Unless it’s sticky grass or wild garlic, in which case all bets are off.
On Sunday, post-blog, I met up with a friend in the wilds of Hackney to see Damien Jurado playing at EArtH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney), a gig which had been postponed at least once and possibly twice thanks to the pandemic but which was well worth the wait. Jurado plays small, interesting venues – we have seen him previously St John on Bethnal Green church, at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster and this time the venue was a reclaimed Art Deco cinema auditorium reached via a most unprepossessing doorway on Stoke Newington High Street. After a pint at the Brewdog bar a couple of doors along and up a few flights of stairs you arrive in the auditorium, which was locked up after the last film showed there in 1984 (Scarface, apparently) and left derelict while the rest of the building went through the usual ex-cinema permutations of snooker hall and community venue – not Bingo, for a change.
It’s a lovely space, still in need of a lot of restoration but the original Art Deco features remain and with simple bench seating and a wide stage the acoustics were wonderful. Add in an atmospheric setlist and good audience engagement and the result was a great evening. We particularly liked the young man at the end who begged for his favourite song, with plaintive pleases, and got his way – I liked the proper last song, too, with snatches of the Grateful Dead’s Morning Dew scattered through.
On Wednesday my beloved and I dragged the Things out for a family walk. Thing 1 sulked all the way up the hill but was won over by the tiny calves in the field and the friendly pig – I think we all were, to be fair. We’ve been very lucky with the weather this week, and on Friday the garden was full of one of the Timeshare Teenagers and friends, painting henna tattoos on each other and recovering from what seemed to have been a pretty heavy night out. Other walks have been in the early morning, finishing with coffee and croissants at M’s house in the garden while fending off the muddy paws of Dobby and Kreacher, who assume all laps are for sitting. These are two rescue dogs, who are now so used to the sight of me that they have given up barking when I walk in to the house for D&D sessions. M and I also had a mooch around North Weald Market yesterday, where we marvelled at the sheer quantity of polyester neon on display, pondered the possibility of all the blingy pictures refracting sunlight and starting fires, and were bemused at the current fashion for wearing fluffy mule sliders out in public with socks.
I’ve also been messing around with making some very geeky earrings from D20s and meeples, am up to date on the Temperature Galaxy and ‘Travel by Tardis’ is halfway done. There’s half a simnel cake left (it was a most welcome apres-swim treat this morning!) and Thing 2 and I tried our hand at making macarons the other day as well. I did do some gardening, weeding the wild garlic out of my little patch and planting a couple of saxifraga and a Bleeding Heart. I can see the shoots of this year’s physalis coming up, hollyhocks are poking through, and I don’t seem to have killed the hydrangea so with any luck I’ll have a nice show this summer.
On Tuesday I am back to work, so I am off to top up my nap. I blame my father. I must also do my Easter bunny impression and distribute some eggs, as the natives are getting restless.
See you next week!
What I’ve been reading:
In a Dry Season/Cold is the Grave/Aftermath/The Summer That Never Was/Playing With Fire/Strange Affair – Peter Robinson
Sometimes you get handed a book, or a recommendation for a book, that a friend or family member has loved and you read it….and it’s okay. It’s not life changing, and you probably wouldn’t say it’s great, but it’s readable. There have been many books like that- and that’s fine, because there’s a lot of different authors and tastes in the world and as Terry Pratchett says many times it would be a funny old world if we were all alike.
Sometimes the book is so terrible you question why you’re so fond of that person.
Sometimes you recommend a book that you have absolutely loved to people you like and they think it’s….okay. Not life changing, not great but…okay. I find it’s best not to take these things personally as clearly those people are wrong, or just need to read it again properly, or aren’t in their right minds.
Sometimes a book has rave reviews, and/or a massive marketing budget, and shoots up the bestseller lists, and films are made of them starring people who you may or may not have heard of, and that’s fine too. Sometimes these are good books and terrible films, sometimes these are terrible books and okay films. Sometimes they are terrible books and you can’t bring yourself to watch the film.
Sometimes – just sometimes – you get given a book and it’s wonderful: it keeps you awake long after your bedtime and stays with you so you can’t wait to pick it back up in the morning. This can be for many reasons: the adventure, the need to know what happens next, the lyricalness of the writing, My recent read ‘Once upon a River’ by Diane Setterfield was one of these books. Others include:
Boy’s Life – Robert McCammon
Hearts in Atlantis and The Body – Stephen King
The Once and Future King – T.H. White
The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Stardust – Neil Gaiman
The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hiro Arikawa
Ring the Hill – Tom Cox
The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Nieffenegger
This week I have added another one to the list – a birthday gift from my colleagues but I detect the hand of my wild swimming colleague in this one. Wild Woman Swimming by Lynne Roper, which is a journal kept over five years of wild swimming in West Country waters. It’s a poignant read: Roper took up wild swimming after a double mastectomy and built a community of swimmers around her, as well as becoming a key member of the Outdoor Swimming Society. Sadly she died five years later of a brain tumour, but she filled those five years with adventure and wrote about them in exquisite, immersive prose. I’ll be recommending this one to friends, but I might not lend them my copy….
There may be many more of these magical books on my shelves of shame, or lurking on my Kindle, and I really ought to get round to reading them. I always swear I won’t buy any more books until I have finished the ones I have (I know, I laugh too) and then the BookBub daily email comes in, or I find something wonderful in a charity shop, or someone recommends a book they have loved and suddenly there’s a new addition. Perhaps I need to make a reading resolution that every other book I read is one from the shelf…. that sounds more realistic, at least!
In the meantime, if I promise not to buy them, will you tell me which are your favourite books to recommend to people?
Trial and error, error, error
You would think that if you have sewed a neckband onto something the wrong way up that it would be a straightforward job to unpick it and put it on the correct way. This was not the case with the blouse hack of the McCalls 8104 dress, which I had to unpick three times before I worked out which way was the right way, and which bits I’d sewed together wrong in the first place. I also managed to sew the bodice and lower bodice pieces together upside down when I started it on Monday, so I am amazed I got it finished at all.
The lovely turquoise cotton fabric is from Higgs and Higgs, and I bought it with my birthday Amazon vouchers – I love the statement sleeves and the slightly fitted waist on it, and the fact that there isn’t a standing collar. I’m not sure what it is with sewing patterns, but every collar I have made is just too seventies – indie or big four, it’s a bit of an issue. I shall just have to learn how to redraft them.
In the name of sorting out my shed I have gone through the hundreds of sewing patterns (mainly free magazine gifts) with a view to handing them over to a friend who has just qualified as a DT teacher – if she doesn’t want them herself she can donate them to school! My August resolution is to have a good tidy up in the shed and donate anything I really won’t use to people who will make good use of them. Things 1 and 2 have just had their ears pierced, so Thing 2 has been making earrings and jewellery with one of her friends which is making a dent in the stash already!
I haven’t done a lot else, really – my sourdough starter has been in heavy use this week as Thing 3 has decided he really likes the bread, and with the discard I have made pizza (always a hit) and cinnamon rolls which were soft and delicious. I’ll definitely be making those again!
So that’s my week! I’ll be off now to do a bit of reading over lunch and then start constructing the jeans I cut out last week….
What I’ve been reading:
Wild Woman Swimming – Lynne Roper
Raising Steam/The Truth – Terry Pratchett
How to Sew Sustainably – Wendy Ward
The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook – Susan Briscoe
Visible Mending – Arounna Khounnoraj
Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee (Audible)
Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (Audible)
This week has drifted by in a fuzz of nothing much: the weather has been grey and rainy, and it’s one of those weeks where I feel I have achieved very little. I know I have, of course: we finished packing up the learning office and the handling collection at work with a week to spare before the deadline, sorted the boxes into deep storage, accessible storage and ‘wanted on voyage’ piles; I had some very useful meetings and spent a lot of time staring at spreadsheets. The cutting adrift of the team from the museum for the next couple of years is imminent: there is no dedicated office space for us elsewhere, so I expect I am just feeling a bit lost!
So as the weather was being temperamental again yesterday I decided I’d cheer myself up with a day of watching a favourite film or two. I ended up watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is endlessly quotable and entirely silly, and the compilation of sketches And Now for Something Completely Different. I love Monty Python: its absurdism, and the sideways look at Britain and the British in a way that Little Britain took a bit too far at times. Sketches like the Dead Parrot or the Four Yorkshiremen are instantly recognisable, even to non-fans, as they have entered the public domain, and without groups like Python the alternative comedians of the ’80s probably wouldn’t have existed. Not the Nine O’Clock News, for example, or Naked Video and Absolutely.
I was first introduced to Monty Python at uni in the early 90s, along with many other geeky things like graphic novels, and role playing games (we did Middle Earth). One of the things I really loved about uni was that it was suddenly OK to be a geek and to love SF and fantasy, superheroes and quotable films, in a way that it wasn’t at a small town secondary school where the slightest hint of difference made you odd. Uni was full of people who didn’t think it odd that locating the local library was top of the to-do list (alongside the local student pub, of course).
Museums are also full of people who happily sit in the nerd camp: the Pratchett fans, the D&D players, the people who start phone calls with “‘ello? I’d like to make a complaint!’ or ‘Do you want to come upstairs?’ and brighten your day by making you laugh. At the start of a meeting this week my line manager informed me that she’d woken up with a pain in the diodes all down her left side: well, it was Thursday, and it’s hard to get the hang of Thursdays. I work with Lego fans, with people who think it’s perfectly normal to sit on the top deck of a bus in London to look at buildings, Potterheads, D&D players, Discworld fans, Whovians, gamers, and more. This is why I love my job: it’s a joy to go to work when you have found your tribe.
I came home from work on Wednesday unable to think about anything except chocolate cake, for some reason. Luckily I have an excellent recipe that belonged to my Aunty Jan, where you throw everything in a bowl, beat it for two minutes and then bung it in the oven and the result is a brilliant cake that even I can’t get wrong. With a dollop of Mallow & Marsh raspberry marshmallow spread in the middle and a cocoa glace icing, we had cake for pudding after dinner and I was able to get on with my life.
As you can see, I finished the Hairspray cross stitch and handed it over to the birthday girl this week – she loved it. I don’t often get to hand things over in person these days, so it was lovely to see the unboxing. Sock one of the Vappu use-up-the-ball socks is complete, and I have also begun this Cow with Calf crochet pattern.
I’ve also finished the next gift in the year of handmade gifts, which will be heading off this week, so I have achieved more than I think I have over the last seven days! This week I am having a sneak preview of the new V&A exhibition with some children from my favourite Bethnal Green primary school: I went into school to visit them on Friday and it was so good to see them again after more than a year!
And then next weekend London sister and I are going on an adventure, which I am REALLY looking forward to. I don’t even care if it rains (though sunshine would obviously be nice!).
So, that was week 60. Nothing much happened, but there we are. See you for week 61, when I will be coming to you from North Wales.
What I’ve been reading
Inspector Pel and the Faceless Corpse – Mark Hebden
I am under orders to ‘write something good’ this week, as instructed by a friend in a message yesterday. No pressure then! It’s early Sunday morning, I walked 15 miles yesterday, Thing 2’s alarm woke me up at 6am (no, I have no idea why she sets a 6am alarm either) and now I have to ‘write something good’. Ha!
This particular instruction came from an old friend from home. We used to drink in the same pubs, with excellent jukeboxes and good company, so it makes sense to write about music and memory this week. There’s a lot of science-y stuff around music therapy and the benefits of music for people with dementia and acquired brain injuries, but – making a rash generalisation here – the music we listened to as teens/young adults has the greatest power to cast us back in time. (Even Radio 3 agrees, so I must be right). Followers of my Facebook page will know that I have what I call my mental jukebox: when a song pops into your head and you can’t get rid of it. I don’t know what triggers the songs and refuse to take any responsibility for them (and sometimes they are extremely random). I just share them via YouTube. The playlist has been stuck in the seventies for a while, but I’m not complaining.
Here are the last three offerings from the mental jukebox:
I wasn’t born till 1973, but I know the Hammond track from a ‘Greatest hits of 1973′ CD that someone bought me for a birthday present once, and the Lightfoot track was covered by a band called Elwood in 2000. In the year 2000 I was living in London and listening to a lot of music – I’d always choose music over turning on the TV, even now. The research says that songs that were on in the background become the soundtrack to your lives.
I discovered Warren Zevon myself, as – other than Werewolves of London – he didn’t get a lot of airplay on mainstream radio. I always loved Werewolves and went off to find the rest of his back catalogue later. The instruction to ‘write something good’ came in a message chain that started with ‘I’m listening to Warren Zevon’. Zevon is a clever, funny lyricist: I love people who can play with words and write whole stories in a few lines of a song.
Later, when I started finding my own musical taste, I discovered Bruce Springsteen with the help of Born in the USA and then a babysitter who was a huge fan. He’s another person who can pour whole worlds into a song and over the course of a live show can take you from joy to tears. He’s been in my life for the last 35 years, and probably counts as the longest soundtrack ever. U2 are up there in my lifelong soundtrack too: The Joshua Tree led me into their back catalogue
I grew up on the Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, John Denver (my mum’s all time favourite), Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis Presley, Don Williams, Dr Hook and a host of country singers, Ray Stevens (thanks Dad), and those songs have the power to cast me back to long car journeys to West Wales and later to Spain for family holidays. These songs say summer to me: hot weather and the excitement of heading off for a couple of weeks on the beach. I can still sing along with most of them, and they always make me smile.
Often it’s individual songs that take you back in time. Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69 takes me to a field in Tregare, The Violent Femmes’ Add it up to a dodgy student nightclub in Preston, Rage Against the Machines’ Killing in the Name to The Warehouse, Don McLean’s American Pie to the Griffin in Monmouth while Meatloaf’s Dead Ringer for Love means The Nag’s Head and playing pool in the back room. Green Day’s Basket Case whisks me off to a basement bar in Aberystwyth, Let it Go from the Frozen soundtrack to my sister’s car filled with kids, The Orb’s Little Fluffy Clouds means the Lake District to me.
Lloyd Cole and the Commotions are forever attached to my best friend, and I know that Dexys Midnight Runners Come on Eileen causes her to think of me – it’s the song that never fails to lift me out of any down moment. Joan Armatrading’s Drop the Pilot is another one. The Blues Brothers soundtrack makes me think of an old friend, as it was his favourite film. Robbie Robertson’s Somewhere Down The Crazy River is the Glen Trothy in Mitchel Troy. There are so many others that raise a wistful smile, or cause me to really really want a pint of cider and a cigarette, or to be in a car with the windows open and the volume up in the sunshine.
The lovely thing about music is that people just keep making it, and there’s always more to discover and add to your personal memory bank. Which songs take you back, and where to?
(Will that do, Nigel?)
Edit: I forgot to include Ocean Colour Scene’s The Day we Caught the Train and Frank Sinatra’s My Way, so a friend tells me – bringing the Durham Arms on Hackney Road back into sharp relief! Thanks Leddy 🙂
These boots are made for walking…
And so, luckily, were my trainers as my walking boots are now more than 20 years old and definitely on their way out.
Yesterday London sister found herself at a loose end so she headed over to Essex – I haven’t seen her since September, which is the longest time we have been apart since I was studying in Aberystwyth and she had just moved to London. She brought coffee and I brought cookies and we headed off up the hill to join the Essex Way at Toot Hill. The weather, despite a frosty start to the day, was perfect for walking – not too hot or cold, and gloriously sunny. We walked through to Ongar and back, with a rest stop at St Andrews Greensted, and plotted a longer walking break which we’ll hopefully manage in the next couple of months. I do love to walk, as you may have noticed, and I’m lucky to have some good footpaths in the area. We covered just over 10.5 miles along paths lined with blackthorn blossom and primroses, saw fish in the Cripsey Brook as well as a lot of bank erosion that must have happened over the winter, and met a friendly collie dog greeting walkers behind the church.
I’d already done a 4.5 miler in the morning, so I am more than a little creaky today! I slept well last night…
I have just had my breakfast – buttered Bara Brith warm from the oven, as my early wake up call meant that I could add the flour, egg and spices to the tea, sugar and fruit I left soaking last night and get the mix in the oven early. Usually I’d be taking it for a post-swimming treat but I have managed to double book myself today and have a life coaching session this morning. I have to think of a problem or question, but I think the problem is really that I am quite content at the moment! My Covid-19 jabs are booked at last, work is going quite well and I have enough time to read and make stuff. What’s not to be happy about?
On that note I had better go and get myself organised for the day!
PS – I forgot to share this V&A blog post the other week when it was finally published!
What I’ve been reading:
Angel’s Share/Rose’s Vintage – Kayte Nunn
Maskerade – Terry Pratchett
A Comedy of Terrors (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)
As a Welsh transplant to the wilds of Essex, St David’s Day for me is always a day of hiraeth – I love my little bit of Essex, I love London but for me ‘home’ is Wales and always will be.
…it means a deep sense of longing, a yearning for that which has past, a sense of homesickness tinged with grief or sorrow over the lost or departed. One attempt to describe hiraeth in English says that it is “a longing to be where your spirit lives.” This description makes some sense out of the combination of words that describe this feeling. The place where your spirit feels most at home may be a physical location that you can return to at any time, or it may be more nostalgic of a home, not attached to a place, but a time from the past that you can only return to by revisiting old memories. Maybe your spirits home could even be neither of the above, one from which you are not only separated by space
There’s a deep sense of homecoming as you cross the Severn – preferably via the ‘old’ bridge, which in Wales is a measure of how bad the weather is. You know it’s windy when they close the bridge to lorries and high sided vehicles, and really windy when they close it to everyone. This sketch is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at the experience, but it’s not far from the mark! Even the Things know that the Severn Bridge means we’re ‘nearly there’, although no words can describe Thing Three’s disappointment at not being able to see ‘the Whales’ when he was about three and London sister and I took them home for a weekend.
Once you’re over the bridge, of course, you have the big decision: ‘over the top’, which takes you down via Devauden and up over the ridge between the Usk and Wye Valleys, with a final sweep down the long hill through Llansoy and into Raglan, or down through the Wye Valley itself, through Tintern and Redbrook before you hit Monmouth over the Wye Bridge. The M48/M4/A449 route never enters the discussion: why would you take the motorways when you have the Usk and Wye to guide you home?
When I was a child in Cardiff, St David’s Day meant dressing up in Welsh costume and wearing a daffodil with its stem wrapped in damp kitchen roll and tinfoil. There would be an Eisteddfod – a Welsh festival where competitions are held in music, poetry, drama, and art – in the morning and then we’d have a half day. In Raglan we had the Eisteddfod but not the half day, which seemed a bit unfair!
Now I’m a grown up and living in Essex I have to make do with buying myself daffodils, though last year my beloved planted loads of bulbs in the garden which are just coming out. We had leeks with our dinner too.
I waited till the weekend to make Welshcakes, as they are delicious but time-consuming. My sister bought me a little bakestone for my birthday a few years back, which means I can cook them properly – any heavy based frying pan will do, but it’s just not the same. My mum always made these cakes, with a last giant one at the end made of the scraps rolled out and that one was Dad’s. They are best sprinkled with sugar hot off the griddle: my beloved has been known to butter his but he’s a bit odd sometimes. I still use my mum’s recipe, which I am going to share here so you can make your own.
8oz self-raising flour (or 8z plain flour with half a teaspoon of baking powder)
1/2 tsp mixed spice (I use more, I like ’em spicy – yesterday I used 1/2 tsp mixed spice and 1/2 tsp cinnamon)
2oz butter (I use Stork these days for baking)
3oz currants/mixed dried fruit (not glace cherries, you heathens.)
3oz caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
small amount of milk if needed
Rub in the the fat and flour. Add the dry ingredients and mix. Add the wet ingredients and mix into a dough. Form it into a large ball and knead it a bit but not too much. Stick it in the fridge for twenty minutes.
Roll out your dough – not too thin, you’re not making biscuits here. Cut out using whatever cutters you have handy. Preheat your bakestone/griddle/heavy based frying pan and melt some butter or add some oil. Cook gently – if you cook it too fast you’ll have a burned outside and a raw middle. Like pancakes, it’s trial and error here.
Put your cooked cakes on a wire rack and sprinkle sugar on them. Don’t forget to quality test them as you go. You’ll know you’ve done it right if they don’t have time to cool down.
For a Christmassy version I use cinnamon instead of the mixed spice, fresh orange peel and dried cranberries.
This week my beloved has been looking at houses in Wales, as he’s been watching Escape to the Country again. Although he’s Essex born and bred, his mum’s first husband was Welsh, his aunt also lives in Wales, and his cousins do too. I would LOVE to move back, but in this case I am being the voice of reason and saying things like ‘yes, but what would we do for a living?’ He says I can be a freelance consultant sort of person and every time he shows me a house he lets me pick a studio…. maybe it’ll happen!
Back to my ‘real’ life
This week my blog post on reimagining the handling collection at the Museum was published: this is the first in a two-parter, and my colleague has written part two on what’s happened to all the things we aren’t keeping. I trained up this week on how to update the collections management system, which means I have no excuse not to do the technical side of the project. Luckily there’s a batch option otherwise it’s going to take me years.
I’ve also had a lot of meetings: some have been in my role as a union rep, supporting colleagues who are impacted by the restructuring process in the museum. They have all impressed me with their passion for not only their roles but also for the conservation work of the museum. Working at one of the smaller sites means I don’t often have contact with other departments, so I’m gaining a much wider view of the museum’s work and also getting to meet (if only virtually) some people who really do espouse the values the museum wants from us: collaboration, generosity, integrity. A couple of them have even made me want to cheer during the meetings, which so far I have resisted.
I finished my socks during a meeting where I had a ‘watching brief’, and I’ve been working on the Galaxy in a Bottle – So. Many. Black. Stitches. It’s looking lovely and I like that you can still see the sparkly fabric through the stitching. I don’t think I’m going to be able to frame it in a hoop, sadly, but this may the time to experiment with framing on stretcher bars.
February is finished on the temperature tree – you can see how warm most of the month has been by all the green leaves. Winter chill seems to have returned with a vengeance though, so March might look very different.
Next up this week is the Tunisian crochet socks, as I have finally found the tension. They’ll be my commute project as I get to go to the office twice this week! The kids are also going back to school in what feels like a highly-organised operation by the teachers. I think they are looking forward to it, and I know I am.
Today I am going to start making this suffragette sash for the Ireland sister. I can’t remember the last time I did any fabric painting so this should be fun!
So that’s been my week! Cross your fingers that the return to school goes well, and I’ll see you same time, same place next week.
What I’ve been reading:
Hardware/The Big Dig/Deep Pockets (Carlotta Carlyle) – Linda Barnes
And a slightly belated Merry Christmas to you all! Our lockdown Christmas was good, despite not being able to see family. As a child this was how our Christmas always was: we would do a round of the Cardiff family on the 23rd (my late grandma’s birthday) and then we’d know Christmas could start properly. On Christmas Eve, as we got older, we’d usually go out for a meal in the evening and to midnight mass at the local church. In the morning my Grandad Bill would arrive at a ridiculously early hour – before he went back to Cardiff for Mass – then we’d have stocking presents. Later, when everyone was dressed, we’d have family presents followed by Christmas dinner in the early afternoon, and turkey sandwiches in the evening.
Since meeting my beloved my Christmas has been a bit different – we would have his older girls for a few days every other year (alternating New Year in the other years), and we’d spend Christmas Day with his mother until she passed away in late 2012. One of the older girls now has her own son, and we had planned – until Tier 4 – to spend Boxing Day with them. We’d hoped to see the other one on Christmas Day, but she was isolating as her boyfriend’s mum had tested positive for Covid a few days earlier.
Usually we’d see my London sister and her husband between Christmas and New Year as well, but we had a family Zoom on Christmas Day instead – our parents, the Irish contingent, London sister and her husband, and us. It was lovely to see them, but it’s not the same as being together.
Back to Christmas Day! Thing 2 has always been a child who likes to know what’s happening: she finds it hard to jump into new things, and prefers to sit back and watch for a while before joining in. She likes to plan how things will work on Christmas Day, as she knows there’s elements of chaos, so we were woken up on schedule at 6am to watch them open their stockings. Wisely, they also brought coffee up with them!
I love watching the children open their presents. This year we bought Thing 3 a Nintendo Switch, which he hoped for and didn’t expect. Shortly after he opened it we had a brief snow flurry, and he was so completely overwhelmed he didn’t know what to do with himself. Thing 1 had shoes that she’d wanted to spend any Christmas money on, so she wasn’t expecting to have them on Christmas Day. I like to go off-list where I can, to surprise them a bit. Life’s no fun if you know what’s in all your parcels!
So we whiled away the day quietly: everyone ate Christmas dinner and far too many Quality Street, and in the evening I broke into the Christmas cake. I have been feeding it with rum and it’s quite delicious.
On Boxing Day I went for a very chilly socially distanced swim – 5.6 degrees. If someone had said to me last year that I’d be looking forward to jumping into a freezing lake I’d have laughed at them, but my swimming gang and I have had so much joy from this newfound passion this year. Some of my Christmas Amazon voucher has been spent on a wetsuit changing bag and a new tow float, in fact.
I have also had a few good muddy walks with various friends and their dogs this week, and some outdoor coffees on the way home which have provided some much needed adult conversations!. I was supposed to meet my permitted friend this morning for a wander, but there appears to be a typhoon – or Storm Bella – in progress outside so we have decided to regroup tomorrow instead.
Over the past year I have made a series of dolls for a DM friend, one for each of his campaign characters. The last one was finished this week, as his wife’s Christmas gift, so I haven’t been able to share progress on it. This one had to have armour and wings: while I could find lots of wing patterns on Ravelry I had to go off-piste with the armour and make it up as I went along.
I have also started work on this sampler from FiddlesticksAU on Etsy: Tolkien fans will recognise the list of Hobbit mealtimes! I love the colours against the black aida fabric.
Less geeky but quite delicious was the stollen I mentioned last week – I have made two loaves so far as they disappear quite quickly!
And that’s been my week. It’s been a quiet one but I am happy to be safe and well with my little family.
What I’ve been reading:
Without the Moon – Cathi Unsworth
That Old Black Magic – Cathi Unsworth
Zero Waste Sewing – Elizabeth Haywood
The New Anchor Book of Blackwork Embroidery Stitches
Serendipity is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? About eighteen months ago, during a quick scan of my Twitter feed I saw an ex-colleague from the National Army Museum, who is now in New Zealand, tweeting about a game called Library Island.
This interactive training activity helps participants to explore strategy, innovation, and the messy business of working with communities. We’ve spent the last two years perfecting Library Island with university staff, health workers, museum professionals, students, and, yes, librarians.
matt finch/mechanical dolphin
This piqued my interest, as a) I really like libraries, b) I’m a museum professional and c) I’m really nosy curious about what other people are up to in the culture sector. At the time I was also doing a lot of thinking about how we could make our school sessions more playful/gamified, so I jumped on the conversation. That tweet opened up a whole new world of conversations around scenario planning and how that approach might be adapted to work with secondary school students, starting with a cup of coffee and a wide ranging chat on a hot day at the museum with Matt Finch of the Said Business School and developer of Library Island.
Fast forward eighteen months and one global pandemic…
At 7.30am on Wednesday (8.30am in Copenhagen, Denmark and 6.30pm in Sydney, Australia) I logged into a Zoom call with Matt, Teresa Swist of the Young and Resilient Research Centre at Western Sydney Uni, and Kirsten Van Dam of Out of Office. This was the third zoom meeting of what’s becoming a knowledge sharing group set up originally by Matt, as the nexus, but which is creating synergies between different projects all over the world. Co-design, co-production and co-creation with communities were all part of this week’s conversation, which link back into the development of the new museum.
I can’t imagine that, without COVID-19, I would ever have had these conversations with people all over the world. Pre-corona, arranging a meeting just with someone in London would have meant building in travel time, trying to find a day when we didn’t already have umpteen things in the diary months ahead of time, and certainly wouldn’t have happened on a Wednesday morning when – in ‘normal’ times – I take the kids to school and then trek into London.
My next meeting on Wednesday – also via Zoom – was a filmed interview about teddy bears and mental health, and then a conversation about how we can make the museum into a virtual environment so we can use the building while its closed. Even my works Christmas socials were online! A party where I don’t have to get on the Central Line home afterwards, perfect.
Zoom and Teams aren’t perfect, but this year they have made the world smaller and my thinking bigger.
Christmas can start now!
I think I am finally ready for the festive season, despite announcements of mutated viruses and the invention of Tier 4 in the last 24 hours. I am sad, as we can’t go and see the older girls (formerly known as the Timeshare Teenagers) and our grandson, but I am also glad we are safe at home.
I finished work for the holidays at lunchtime on Friday after a cheery, chatty Christmas cuppa with the rest of our little learning team. In the afternoon I gave in to the demands of Thing 2 to make a gingerbread house from scratch: we’d never done that before, but when we have had kits previously the biscuit has been quite fragile and the houses have been a bit of a disaster. So, it was back to BBC Good Food, which is usually my go-to for new recipes, where we found instructions – including templates – for a simple gingerbread house. We made the gingerbread and constructed the house on Friday, then left it to set overnight before decorating with Dolly Mixtures, mini Smarties and chocolate fingers on Saturday morning. I think at least as many sweets ended up in Things 2 and 3 as on the house, but it looks really festive. Thing 2 made a mini Christmas tree as well, with a wall of jelly sweets to hold in the Smarties.
Right now I am waiting for the Stollen dough to prove – again, it’s a BBC recipe, this time by Simon Rimmer. It’s funny – there’s nothing to say I can’t make stollen at any time of year, as I really like it, but it has become part of the Christmas routine. The cake was marzipanned yesterday, and I’ll ice and decorate it in the week. I’ve been haunting Pinterest again for ideas, which is always risky.
The Zoom blanket is finally finished and was sent off on Thursday, so that’s out of the way and I can focus on a crochet commission for a friend. I enjoyed making this, apart from weaving in the ends, and the matching hat is very cute. Hopefully the expectant mum will also like it!
On the cross stitch frame I have a Lord of the Rings themed pattern, on black aida so the daylight lamp is coming in very handy. A top tip someone told me ages ago was to have a white cloth on your lap when stitching on dark fabrics, or even a light box. No one mentioned cats, which is usually what’s on my lap!
My next post will be after Christmas, so I’ll leave you all with warm wishes for a peaceful, safe festive week. See you at the end of week 40!
What I’ve been reading:
Hogfather – Terry Pratchett
Bad Penny Blues – Cathi Unsworth
Without the Moon – Cathi Unsworth
Christmas films ticked off:
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion/The Runaway Bride/Voyage of the Damned
Stir Up Sunday is when families get together to prepare the Christmas pudding, and it’s the last Sunday before Advent*. I first heard about it from my original boss at the Museum of London Docklands – I don’t remember this being something we did when I was a child. I have a vague recollection that my grandma used to make the Christmas puddings and when she got too old we either had shop-bought ones (that were usually still in the cupboard in May – who has room for Christmas pud if dinner is done properly?) or no pudding at all. I confess to not liking Christmas pudding anyway.
There was always a Christmas cake though, mum-made and usually with a disaster story attached – my dad is partial to a fruit cake so she made them throughout the year, but the Christmas one always went a bit wrong. This year London sister has made one for the parents and sent it in the post to France, and all they have to do is feed and decorate it.
I didn’t like Christmas cake, either – I still don’t like shop-bought ones. I’m not a lover of candied peel, glace cherries in anything, or unexpected bits of nut. When I became a proper grown up, however, I decided that along with being able to stuff a turkey without wincing (I usually remember to take the neck and giblets out…) I ought to make Christmas cake too. I’d won a Mary Berry recipe book in a Christmas party raffle a few years earlier and found the Classic Victorian Christmas Cake, so thought I’d give that a go – OK, it was the only Christmas cake recipe in any of my books, so it was an easy choice! I think it’s also the only thing I have ever made from the book.
I left out the glace cherries and almonds, replaced the cherries with more dried fruit, and rather than soaking the fruit in sherry I used rum. Then I fed the cake with more rum. Mary wasn’t clear on how often you should feed the cake, or on how much you should be feeding it, so I erred on the side of caution and that first cake was a) very moist and b) capable of putting you over the driving limit. So that’s been my go-to recipe since then – I didn’t make one last year, as I usually end up eating far too much of it myself, but this year my budding Heston Blumenthal (aka Thing 2) has been putting pressure on me to make one.
So yesterday Thing 2 and I set the fruit to soak (in the last of the cherry gin, due to a lack of rum in the house) and on Tuesday afternoon we will stir up and bake our 2020 cake. Just before Christmas we’ll decorate it – madam has very strong opinions on cake decorating so I may leave her in charge of that.
*Yes, I know Stir-Up Sunday is technically next weekend, but never mind. I’m sure there will come a time when Thing 2 doesn’t want to cook with me, so until then I’ll make the most of it.
Work is the curse of the crafting classes
This week I have been working from home – an online symposium on Monday about Creativity in Education Now, run by Creative Schools and Creative Colleges. Interesting stuff: the keynote speaker was Bill Lucas, author of Teaching Creative Thinking and my new hero. There was a poor OFSTED rep there, who was trying really hard to say that there were lots of opportunities for teaching creativity in schools as part of the new(ish) inspection framework, but she kept hammering home that everything had to start with knowledge acquisition. She wasn’t open to ‘split screen’ teaching, where creative skills are developed at the same time: as she was an ex-art teacher that surprised me.
The rest of the week was spent on meetings, and on developing a set of learning outcomes for one of the new galleries in the museum. It’s going to be an amazing space – as with the rest of the museum, focused on building creativity in children, young people and their families – and the deep dive back into our thinking over the past year or so has made me excited about the transformation project all over again. It’s been hard at times this year to remember what a brilliant thing we’re doing – losing six months to furlough meant it’s taken a while to get back to this point – but this task has reminded me.
On the subject of creativity – I love what the Natural History Museum have been doing to support audiences. This lovely free Dodo cross stitch pattern is available to download, and you can also make a giant squid or a whole set of nudibranches. The patterns come with really simple instructions, too, and are part of a suite of equally brilliant craft activities. Nice job, NHM.
You can find the V&A’s own offer here – less for kids but some gorgeous Mary Quant patterns remade by Alice and Co Patterns, as well as other projects inspired by exhibitions. You could also check out the #LetsMakeWednesdays posts on the V&A Blog.
Where was I? Oh yes, working at home – that means no progress at all has been made on the portable sock project, which has the heel flap done on sock 1 and is ready to turn when I get back on the tube tomorrow.
The Hydrangea blanket has a few more stripes, and I have also been working on rainbow jewellery which will hopefully find their way into an experience hamper at some point. The rainbow pattern is by Ever Laughter and you can find it here. She used aran yarn to make her applique, I have used Perle no 8 for the necklace and Scheepjes Cotton 8 for the brooches. I like the pastel one just for a change up! The pile of squares is the Zoom blanket underway in Stylecraft Special DK.
I’ve managed to sew up both the dresses I cut out last weekend, too. Both were pretty quick makes and came together in just a couple of hours each, and both have proper pockets to put things in. You can’t underestimate the value of pockets!
Being at home all week – with Lulu on downstairs cat duty – has reminded me how much that cat loves my beloved. The first picture is when she heard him come through the back door – Thing 3 is currently complaining that she jumped off him as soon as her human came downstairs. She’s not a lap cat like the other two, but will lean on you or cuddle up if you’re sitting down and if my beloved is not in the room. If he is, you haven’t got a look-in….
I’ll leave you this week with a picture of a clematis in the garden still bravely struggling on. I love the colours of this one.
See you at the end of week 36, when we can see how the cake turns out! This week’s cover photo is the woods on Stonards Hill in Epping looking very autumnal.
What I’ve been reading
The Penguin Killer – Ste Sharp
Enemies at Home/Deadly Election (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)
The Law of Innocence (Mickey Haller) – Michael Connelly
Gobbelino London and a Scourge of Pleasantries – Kim M. Watt
There are definitely days when I feel a lot of sympathy for my parents, who brought up three daughters and lived to tell the tale. We have all turned out to be fairly normal and well-adjusted adults, despite the usual teenage (OK, and adult) decisions that probably had mum and dad tearing their hair and added a few ‘natural lights’ (as my hairdresser says) to those hairs that remained.
Monday was one of those days. During lockdown Thing 1 has been ‘experimenting with her aesthetic’ (so she tells me) and has pretty much settled in as a punky Goth. Not a problem – the black hair, the eyeliner, the (fake) septum piercing, the Docs*, the ripped tights and fishnets are all things I can live with as they’re temporary and the look suits her. We’ve been at home for an extended period, after all, and rules have been relaxed in many ways to make the separation from their friends easier.
The one thing I have been firm about, however, is that any extreme hair changes would need to be cut off before going back to school – yes, their big sister could bleach the ends out and they could have any colour hair they wanted until September. Hot pink, punk purple, bright green, mermaid blue, whatever – but it had to go before school started. Thing 1 went for a short bob quite early on and her dad did an undercut for her which her big sister had bleached and dyed, but that could be hidden. Her school rules say ‘no extreme haircuts and any hair dye can only be in natural colours’. The black dye she was sporting was fine, in that case, and the bleached undercut could be cut in again which would remove the bleach. She had been complaining that her roots were showing, and I had said that we’d get some hair dye next time I was in the supermarket but apparently this wasn’t fast enough.
So, on Monday I went off to get Thing 2 from school as she hadn’t taken the bus by herself at this point – Thing 1 wasn’t back in till Tuesday. When we got back Thing 1 was wearing a headscarf and looking suspiciously innocent. She had dyed her roots and her scalp magenta**. I mean, really magenta. Definitely-not-a-natural-colour-by-any-stretch-of-the-imagination magenta.
Then I noticed the eyebrow slit.***
At which point I turned into my mother.
*Apart from the Docs, which are obviously a design classic and I wear them myself.
**I made her wash it out the following day – top tip here people: Head and Shoulders shampoo is great for removing excess hair dye. The roots are still pinkish but at least her head is a normal colour.
***There isn’t much I can do about the eyebrow except take a lot of photos and use them to embarrass her when she’s older.
Cake and cover ups
I mentioned last week that I was off to make an apple fudge cake to try and make a dent in the glut of apples from our little eating tree in the garden. I have no idea what variety they are but they are a pretty pinky-red and the flesh is pink-tinged too, but the texture is a bit woolly. Thing 1 and my beloved are not fans of fruit, Thing 2 and I prefer a crisp, tart apple and Thing 3 can’t be expected to eat them all himself so I have been using them to bake in place of cooking apples. We had a cooking apple tree until a few years ago, but sadly it fell victim to honey fungus and we had to take it down.
I’ve used this recipe before and while I find it a bit dry, its great with custard or some vanilla ice cream. It’s a Simon Rimmer one from Something for the Weekend, and its very simple to make. I used Thornton’s Dairy Fudge as it was all they had in the Co-op, but I expect you could jazz it up with a flavoured fudge – a Baileys one would be delicious!
On the rare chilly mornings up at Redricks Lake – and as we start thinking about how we’ll keep swimming through the winter – we have been eyeing up people’s Dryrobes and wincing at the price tag. I was pretty sure I could make something similar that would keep me warm and allow enough room to get in and out of a wetsuit, so I had a go this week at a trial version.
I started with a wearable blanket pattern in adult size – in this case, the free (and very easy to follow) Billie blanket by Do It Better Yourself Club, which comes in two lengths and can be lined or left unlined. I chose to make the lined version and used softshell fleece fabric for the outside, two large (bath sheet sized) microfibre towels for the body lining, and cotton jersey for the cuffs and hood lining.
Softshell fleece has a woven shower proof front and a microfleece backing fabric, which means its wind and water resistant as well as warm and breathable. It has a similar feel and handle to a scuba fabric, so it’s quite flexible and easy to sew. I used my overlocker for the whole construction, which made it super speedy, and only used my sewing machine to topstitch around the hood to hold it in place.
I first made the blanket as it says in the pattern, though I didn’t do a proper hem as a) I wasn’t convinced my sewing machine would like the four layers of fabric and b) I really couldn’t be bothered to measure it. I just sealed the outer and inner together with the overlocker. It was HUGE! This was the XL size as I wanted it to be roomy enough to change in – frankly, we could all have changed in there. At the same time.
Once I’d tried taking it on and off, I decided that it might be easier if it opened down the front, rather than having to take it on and off over my head, particularly in cold damp weather when you just want to wrap up in something warm.
So, I sliced it down the centre and overlocked those edges together too, which has made it much more manageable. I’ll use sticky velcro down the front for a quick seal and will also put some down the left front, so it can be wrapped more closely.
The microfibre towels had enough fabric to line the front and back, though the back is a bit of a box and cox job as I had to piece it together! It’s very cosy and weighty enough to be comforting, and I think it’ll be good for the winter. It probably took about 4 hours to make and the cost was considerably less than a proper Dryrobe. Can’t wait to test it out!
I’ve also been working on a different sort of cover up, using some Stylecraft Alpaca DK yarn in lovely autumn colours that I have been hoarding. I had started making a self-drafted long waistcoat with it, but wasn’t inspired by it and wasn’t sure I’d wear it, so I unravelled it last weekend and put the yarn back in the shed until the right pattern came along.
On Wednesday I beetled off to the shed and got the yarn back out again, as in this month’s Simply Crochet magazine the perfect pattern appeared. Well, not perfectly perfect as the recommended yarn was aran weight and mine was DK, but I made a tension square using a hook two sizes larger and it came up to the right size. I just hope I have enough yarn as Stylecraft have discontinued this line – it’ll be down the EBay rabbit hole if not!
The pattern is a Bishop-sleeved cardigan – they have used a pale pink as their main colour, but I’m using a lovely red with some toning colours for the sleeve stripes. Using two strands held together it’s working up quickly – I have almost finished the back now.
Hi ho, hi ho…
…it’s not off to work I go. It’s quite odd trying to get back into the swing of work and our major capital project while still being at home, although I must confess it’s been a lot easier this week with no children around to ‘help’! On Tuesday I attended whole Teams meetings with no one wandering behind me to see who I was talking to, typed complete sentences and wasn’t interrupted once with demands for food or mediation. I do feel as if my head may well start spinning on my neck and explode as there’s so much to take in, but by Thursday I was up to this month’s emails. Hurray!
That was my week then! The cover photo was taken at sunrise on Monday, looking towards Ongar from the top of the common. The image below is from the same walk – I loved the way the trees were framing the sun – and the wasp nest is from a fallen tree at Dial House. This was only part of it – it must have been hge!
See you at the other end of week 26!
What I’ve been reading
A Capitol Death (Flavia Albia series) – Lindsey Davis
Further Adventures of Carlotta Carlyle: Three Mystery Stories – Linda Barnes
Two for the Lions/One Virgin Too Many (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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)