126: ambassador, you are spoiling us

Last week we ran out of the Furry Fiends’ usual Iams cat food, and as the Amazon subscription delivery was due in a few days I grabbed some Go-Cat from the local Co-op to tide them over. It received the kind of ecstatic welcome I’d expect from the Things if I turned up with a surprise McDonalds. There was winding round the ankles, head bumps, clean bowls and general excitement. Clearly this is junk food extraordinaire for cats: weird shapes, vegetables, that sort of thing.

Considering they are cats and can’t actually speak, they do a good job of communicating their needs to us. Bailey herds us to where we need to be – food, or water – and Ted is very vocal. Lulu is the teenage sulky cat who flops about the place or stalks off in a huff.

All three of the furry landmines came to us as adult cats: Teddy and Bailey from a new blended family where there was an allergy, and Lulu from a home where they just didn’t have room for a cat any more. Ted was four, Bailey was three and Lulu was one. Ted is a lilac haired British Shorthair, Bailey is a chocolate point British Shorthair and Lulu is a dark tortoiseshell domestic shorthair (your common or garden mog, in other words). Much like the Things, they have their own very well-defined personalities.

Ideally they would all love each other and sleep in adorably Instagrammable furry heaps. In reality, the boys hate the girl so every week we have to swap them between upstairs and downstairs. The boys will walk through any open door, Lulu has to be collected by stealth or physically wrestled: no matter who actually does the swapping it’s my fault and my ankles are at risk for the next few hours. The sight of a bag of kitty litter sends her into hiding as she knows what’s coming. For a cat that regularly falls down stairs when she rolls over on the top step and who has been known to miss when she jumps onto something, she’s pretty bright at times. Ted and Bailey will also walk straight into the cat carrier to go to the vets.

Lulu adores my Beloved and has been known to bring him gifts of unwary shrews that venture onto the catio. Last Christmas it took us half an hour, a wooden spoon and an empty cheese sauce pot to recapture a mouse she’d brought him. At least once she’s handed them over she loses interest, so we don’t have to retrieve them from her. She snuggles up to him on the sofa, can recognise the sound of the van and sit up meerkat-style when she hears him coming in, and she hurls herself at his feet when he approaches. The rest of us get our ankles attacked and our shoulders high-fived when she’s ensconced in her favourite box on the cat tree. The computer chair is her favoured sleep spot, and she’s happy to demand space from Thing 3. She also likes to make her presence known in the night by dotting her cold nose on any exposed limbs, or via a piercing mew close to your ear.

Teddy and Bailey are much more laid back (unless Lulu is within sight). Ted’s turned into a bit of a princess at the grand age of 10, seeking out cushions and comfortable beds. All paper work on the floor is fair game, and all pencils are his playthings. He goes through phases of sleeping on my head in the night, as pillows are his property, which leaves me with a cricked neck. I can occasionally employ a decoy pillow to distract him, however. His favourite trick is to demand attention and then to lie down just out of reach of the person attempting to stroke him. He has a loud miaow, which he deploys when anyone has the temerity to a) lock a door against him, b) be outside in the garden or c) not provide undivided attention on demand.

Both Teddy and Bailey can detect a tin of tuna being opened from three rooms away and can teleport to the kitchen. Pedigree cats are prone to gingivitis, so Bailey had a lot of teeth removed a couple of years ago which has left him with a fang on his bottom jaw. He has a faintly piratical air thanks to this and his bandit mask (like the Dread Pirate Roberts). He likes to stand on his back legs to demand attention, and does a silent miaow at you, especially in the mornings when he knows breakfast is in the offing. He’s partial to the odd Quaver or Wotsit, and also likes scraps of ham. His current favourite spot in the heat wave is under the desk in a dark corner, or on the corner stair next to the outside wall where it’s cool.

These two do collapse in furry heaps together, and I suspect Bailey would be open to a friendlier relationship with Lulu if Ted wasn’t around. We live in a house which has had cats since the 1960s and it felt wrong to be without one!

Other things making me happy…

This week one of my colleagues managed to take a photo of me that I didn’t hate, and Thing 2 also captured one of me in my latest attempt at creating work-appropriate pyjamas. (I haven’t tested them out yet as this week has been heatwave time again.)

  1. The red dress photo was taken at Oxford House, where one of my amazing colleagues organised an event for families on Monday. We had a great day meeting local families, playing with the blue blocks outside in the shade and finding out what makes them creative. They discovered what a curator does, saw some of the new ideas for the museum and designed some picture frames too. A local professional photographer, Rehan Jamil captured portraits of children with props while Will Newton, curator of the Imagine gallery, recorded their stories for the ‘This is Me’ section of the space. Naturally the team got in on the act for some test shots – of course I had my crochet with me in the shape of a new Dragon Scale shawl which is my current tube project. Our colleague on mat leave visited with her gorgeous baby, who is – fortunately – resigned to being cuddled by random museumites – the problem with people going on mat leave, I have found, is that you really want them to come back as you miss them but you also want their mat cover to stay as they are equally lovely.
  2. The work appropriate pyjamas are actually the Zadie jumpsuit by Paper Theory – online reviews were mixed on fit, and the PDF pattern was a nightmare to put together but the result was great. I used another 100% cotton fabric that I’d bought as an end-of-roll bargain last year.
  3. Fab lollies. Fab lollies are great. Although this week my beloved’s response to being asked if he’d like a Fab was ‘what time is it?’. That’s on a par with saying ‘no thanks, I’m not hungry’ to the offer of a chocolate. Weird.
  4. Trialling a giant pig in a blanket version of last year’s tree decorations. Chunky yarn!

And now I’m off for a swim! See you next week.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

More Tales of the City/Further Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin

The Running Hare – John Lewis-Stempel

Swell – Jenny Landreth

125: ooh look, a butterfly

This week I am feeling uninspired, which is not like me at all. The Things are off on their school holidays, the weather is nice and – as my role is formal learning – there are no teachers out there to harass so in theory I have lots of time to catch up on the to-do list. In theory. In reality, as always in August, my head is relaxing on a beach with a good book instead of focusing on the GEM conference presentation I ought to be writing. My butterfly brain has been fluttering from item to item on my to-do list, and lots has been started but not much finished. The first 800 words of the presentation are tweaked to perfection though…

Luckily my sewing mojo has come back so I have at least accomplished something this week. Sometimes sorting out the shed throws a fabric to the top of the pile and reminds you that you had a plan for it. I had a lieu day to use up so took advantage of a rare meeting free day to indulge in some midweek stitchery.

The fabric in question is a lovely dark red cotton with daisy-ish flowers all over it. I love the By Hand London ‘Anna’ dress pattern, and have made a couple of versions previously: a maxi length in a yellow floral digital print viscose (lovely feel, horrible to work with) and a knee length version in a black polycotton where I’d experimented with extending the sleeves. You can make it in a range of lengths and there’s a couple of neckline options to choose from.

I wanted this one to be maxi length but with the longer sleeve so I could wear it for work, and I chose the V-neck option for a change. Rather than front darts for shaping, the dress has a couple of vertical pleats on the front, with darts on the back. The waistline sits high and the skirt is panelled so it’s a flattering flared shape rather than the current trend for tiered flounces. I extended the sleeves to just above the elbow into a flared shape to echo the shape of the skirt, and I was really happy with the outcome and wore it to work on Thursday. Apart from the zip insertion bit where I diverged, the instructions are really clear so if you’re looking for a beginner project with a good result I’d recommend this.

I also used a cotton voile to make a red square top using the Seamwork Bo pattern, a black shirt dress using the Seamwork Jo pattern (and another Bo to use up the double gauze!), added a Moomin iron-on to the bag I made last week, and in the evenings I finished the Travel by Tardis cross stitch from Country Magic Stitch and updated the Climbing Goat Designs temperature galaxy.

Other things making me happy this week:

  • Absolute Classic Rock not playing Peter Frampton at any point while I’ve been listening
  • My beloved’s birthday
  • Swim and a bacon sandwich this morning in the sunshine
  • Lovely afternoon with board games and friends yesterday
  • Lots of dog walks with Bella-dog, Loki the puppy, Dobby and Kreacher and their lovely owners
  • Paper Girls on Amazon Prime Video

Same time same place next week? This week I have three days out in Tower Hamlets with actual people and the blue blocks, a new cross stitch to do and I’m half way through the current crochet project.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – Michael Chabon

A Change of Circumstance – Susan Hill

More Tales from the City – Armistead Maupin

124: God bless the cactuses

It’s not often that the death of someone I don’t know moves me to tears. The last time it happened it was losing Terry Pratchett in 2015, in fact. The passing of Bernard Cribbins this week was another of those moments. He’s just always been around, hasn’t he. From my childhood with The Wombles and Jackanory (more than 100 stories told there!); Albert Perks in The Railway Children; my kids’ childhood with Old Jack’s Boat; my adulthood with Doctor Who; the refrain of Right Said Fred ringing in my head after many, many meetings going over and over the same subject.

His role as Wilfred Mott in Doctor Who was beautifully done: for me, when Catherine Tate joined the cast, it was too close to her comedy show for me to take her seriously (so shouty!) and Bernard’s presence made her bearable. I have come round to her now after several rewatches, but his performance never gets outshone. Ten’s final episodes (‘The End of Time Parts I and II’) are heartbreaking: John Simm, who played The Master for Tennant’s Doctor, said this week that the hardest thing he had to do was be mean to Bernard Cribbins. He seemed like a genuinely lovely man, who has left a great body of work behind him.

Talking of interminable meetings…

By Thursday this week I had sat through more meetings than you could shake a stick at, and while the content was interesting in many cases my brain was a bit fried and I was overcome with the urge to make something. So at the end of the day the laptop went away, the sewing machines came out, and I spent a couple of hours using a duvet cover and an old favourite pattern to make a new dress.

There are benefits to using a familiar pattern (in this case the Simple Sew Kimono Dress): you don’t have to cut it out, you’re not focusing on any new techniques so your mind is free to think about other things, and in this case it was a quick make. Four seams and a hem, basically, and my dress was done: the pattern is a wrap dress, which has been a wardrobe staple in this recent heat, and then I used some scraps to create the waist ties. I added a pattern-matched patch pocket, and voila! A new frock which I teamed with wedge sandals for work. I love the rather sheepish looking jaguar in the pattern!

I carried on the sewing yesterday: a cross-body bag for the rare occasions I am pocketless, and a Rad Patterns Lucky Lingerie bra that I’d cut out a while ago. The bag was from The Book of Bags by Cheryl Owen, which I won in a magazine draw ages ago (I think) and that did need new techniques: inset zip and inserting a lining. Tricky but I like the end result. I also threaded my overlocker for today’s sewing, and loaded bobbins with black thread, so I am prepped for more creative adventures today!

Making me happy this week:

  1. the Africa Fashion exhibition at the V&A and seeing some of my favourite young people from Spotlight
  2. Working on the Travel by Tardis cross stitch from Country Magic Stitch
  3. Seeing J’s face when I handed over his new GIANT dice bag

That’s all, folks – I have to go and get my bathers on!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Moonglow/The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – Michael Chabon

The Running Hare – John Lewis-Stempel

109: wake me up for tea

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.

Damien Jurado (r) and Josh Gordon

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.

Family walk – the return leg

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!

Kirsty x

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

Insidious Intent – Val McDermid

Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Novels vol 4 (Audible)

103: self-indulgent sewing

This week has mostly been about resetting my brain, one way or another – as you’ll have seen in previous posts, it’s been a busy few months with various work projects and all the other things that go with being a mostly-functioning adult. I took a couple of days off mid-week, as for the first time in many years I was in danger of having too many days to carry over into the next leave year.

As these were days just for me, I took them ‘off-off’, as opposed to making a list of practical things I needed to do – you know, opticians appointments, running errands and so on – and planned a sewing project. Folkwear Patterns, one of my favourite companies for a good dramatic piece, have recently published a jacket pattern in their new Basics range which I liked the shape of. I do love a ‘statement’ piece, as fashion magazines would say.

“A collection of simple patterns based on the premise of folk clothing, these pieces are easy to sew, easy to fit, comfortable to move and work in, and are a great canvas for creativity.  Make these pieces simple and plain or embellish till your heart’s content.”

https://www.folkwear.com/collections/basics

Another thing I’d been keen to try after my adventures in patchwork during lockdown was to make a quilted piece of clothing, so with a straightforward pattern this seemed a good time to try it. Seamwork, which also has an excellent range of patterns, has a link to a tutorial for making on how to quilt fabrics for garments so I headed there for some help.

The first issue I ran into was fabric choice – the pattern, as the front and back are cut as a single piece, isn’t suitable for a one-way print. The fabric I wanted to use for the outer layer – a double duvet cover in a dark teal green, with parrots and leaves – was (of course) a one-way print so I had to do a bit of cutting and sticking before I could sew. Pretty simple – I found the shoulder line, sliced the pattern along it and cut the back and front separately before sewing them back together and treating them as a single piece. Next time, I’ll remember to cut out the lining pieces before I cut the pattern so I don’t have to stick it back together! I chose to cut two sizes larger than my actual size, as I wasn’t sure how much room I’d lose when I quilted it. For the bottom of the quilt sandwich I used a polycotton sheet, as it wouldn’t be seen and was pretty much the same weight as the outer.

Once I’d cut all the bits out I started following the quilting tutorial, and never have I been so relieved that a garment had a full lining. I didn’t use enough pins/clips/nails/double sided sticky tape to hold the ‘sandwich’ together so the sheeting moved around like mad, bunching up and generally teaching me not to be lazy with my pinning. Luckily the aforementioned lining hides the disaster inside. I didn’t have quite enough batting to use single pieces, so one side is very much pieced together! Another reason to be glad of the lining….

I chose to quilt in straight lines, but only did small sections at a time so I could change the direction of the lines. You can see the front and back sections above – the chalk marks on the back are where I changed my mind and decided to leave sections unquilted as I liked the effect. The angles marked on my quilting ruler were very helpful here. The pattern isn’t symmetrical across the left and right halves of the jacket but the patterns and lines are roughly the same. I really liked the vertical quilting on the front sleeves and the ‘V’ shapes on the back.

Having quilted the bottom half of the front it dawned on me that I hadn’t accounted for the pockets which would cover my lines, so before I added the pockets I lined them up, marked lines on them and stitched ‘mock quilt’ lines so they’d fit in. I decided to change the pocket opening as well, as the side opening pockets looked as if everything would fall out. They’d be great for hands but not so good for things like keys, phones, pet dragons, shiny rocks, emergency waffles and so on. I went for a top opening – they’re very generous pockets, too, which is always good.

Day two was about construction. I trimmed the lining to match the outer, to take account of the quilting. Sewing the jacket together was very straightforward with only three seams (underarm/side and back) on each layer. The lining was attached with a single seam around the neckline and bottom hem, and then the sleeves were bound and the pockets added. I topstitched all around the hemline, threw the whole thing in the washer and dryer to get rid of the chalk marks and to fluff up the batting, and then gave it a press.

Having convinced Thing 1 to take some photos for me, I was all done – two days of singing along to loud music (classic rock and ska punk, mostly) and sewing something that’s made me really happy. It’s great to throw on, it’s lovely and warm and has big pockets as well as being dramatic enough for stalking the galleries of the V&A – you know you’ve nailed it when a visitor asks where you got it from. I teamed it with a black skater dress (also made by me) and a pair of platform boots – and new earrings also made this week. You can see them below, along with the alpaca beret (from one of the crochet mags) and a rainbow tinycorn.

I’ve also finished the Mental Health First Aid qualification I was doing, and went for a long walk with friends that ended up with toasted teacake and hot chocolate with a mountain of cream and marshmallows at the market. Last night was a meal out with some girlfriends at the local Indian restaurant – it’s been far too long since we’ve done that!

And now I’m off for a long bath….

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Kept Woman – Karin Slaughter

The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

Influential Magic – Deanna Chase

Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Novels vol 2 (Audible)

96: Everything louder than everything else

This week I was sad to hear that the incomparable Meat Loaf has died at the age of 74. London sister and I saw him at the O2 on the Last at Bat tour in 2013 and he was struggling then – the voice was going and he was using oxygen off stage, presumably to help with his asthma. It was still a great show – it was celebrating the Bat out of Hell anniversary, so interspersed with the songs were video interviews with Jim Steinman, ‘Mighty’ Max Weinberg and others. It was a memorable show but we were pretty sure we wouldn’t be seeing him live again.

While I wouldn’t say Mr Loaf was one of my all time favourite artists, he’s not far off – not just because of the the music but because of the memories that go with them. Dead Ringer for Love casts me back to the Nag’s Head in Monmouth, while Paradise by the Dashboard Light is a road trip favourite. All his songs – dramatic, not theatrical according to Meat Loaf in an interview with Terry Wogan in 1982 – are perfect for singing along to in kitchens, pubs and cars even when you are not a singer (like me). His style has been described as ‘blustery, wounded romantic-on-the-brink-of-a-breakdown’. Loud is the key – ‘everything louder than everything else’, in fact – and with passion, much like himself. Meat Loaf was larger than life himself – funny, personable, engaging, entertaining.

Primordial Radio were playing a lot of Meat Loaf yesterday while I was crafting and each song raised a smile. Many friends have shared their own favourite songs on social media, referencing pubs and old friends – recollections of VI form or college, in many cases. Could you ask for a better legacy as a singer? RIP, Marvin Lee ‘Meat Loaf’ Aday.

The rest of the week

Has been pretty much business as usual, to be honest – a trek to south Kensington, another one to Hackney Wick and a lot of meetings in between. My favourite geeky friend has her birthday today so yesterday I had fun making her gifts while singing along to the radio – a dice bag and a pair of earrings. I made mermaid scale ones and bat wing ones – using dolls house miniatures – and took a vote on which I should give to her. Her husband had already ordered the Lego bat ones! The dice bag has Lord of the Rings fabric with purple (her favourite colour).

My adorable nephew/godson is in a Harry Potter phase, so a snowy owl winged its way over to NI for his birthday this week, and the 9 and 3/4 cross stitch (with glow in the dark outline and Gryffindor colours backing) is off to Yorkshire.

Neon Pikachu is going slowly….black aida is a pain to work on but the colours look amazing.

This morning the lake was 2.5 degrees and the swimming lane was limited by sheets of ice – we lasted 10 minutes (most of which was getting in!). Madness but the mental reset is so worth it.

Mummy tummy and all. L-R – Isla, me, Sue, Jill. No Rachel!

See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Sapphire Manticore/The Golden Basilisk – Maria Andreas

Torchwood Tales (BBC Audio) – Audible

95: hello North Weald…again

This week started with the postponement of the final night of The Socially Distant Sports Bar’s live tour, which had been scheduled for Cardiff Motorpoint Arena the night before the Wales vs Scotland game of the Six Nations. My gig buddy Jen and I were looking forward it it: a night away with comedy and perhaps one (or two) drinks, and a good catch up since she has left London and is now living in the frozen North and watching birds for a living or something. It’s not the first thing that’s been put back a few months – Damien Jurado was rearranged for April, for example, but I was really, really looking forward to a night of belly laughs and to being somewhere else again.

I like live entertainment – whether it’s a decent pub band or Bruce Springsteen at Wembley, a small folky gig or a comedy night, a play or a musical. The best gigs – no matter how big they are – give you a sense of intimacy, a shared experience even in the most soulless of venues (the O2 at Greenwich, for example). Generally the people around you are fans too, or at least music fans, and they are willing to be carried away on the same wave: the roar when the intro of a fan favourite kicks in, or the big hits. There are shared moments from previous experiences: Jen and I were haunted by a very loud drunken person for several gigs, who we never saw but we knew he was there by his frequent bellows of ‘Play Wonderwall! Play Wonderwall!’ in between songs or when the singer was chatting. Jen and I have never seen Oasis together, so we are always a bit mystified by this. He was at a gig when I was there but Jen wasn’t, which felt quite wrong and I had to text her so she could share.

I’m not surprised the gig was postponed and I know it’ll be great when it finally happens, but I’m so tired of not being able to look forward to things any more because it just makes the disappointment of postponement that much worse. If Covid could sod off now I’d really appreciate it, please and thank you – that’s something we are all looking forward to.

Who doesn’t need a mini-me?

Just before Christmas, in an issue of Inside Crochet (issue 143), there was a little pink haired doll who reminded me of my last line manager Andrea – knowing she had a birthday coming up in January I made it and packed it off to sunny Leigh-on-Sea.

I’ve also been messing about with some jewellery ideas, so watch this space – I really shouldn’t be allowed unsupervised on ebay, but there we are. Ten more pigs in blankets are underway, a neon Pikachu cross stitch, a couple more snowy owls – not enough time in the day, it seems!

See you next week, when I might be a lot less disgruntled. More gruntled?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Glass Gargoyle/The Obsidian Chimera/The Emerald Dragon – Maria Andreas

Torchwood: The Radio Dramas/Torchwood Tales (Audible)

94: absolutely pants

Back in prehistory, before there were children, when I was young and mostly irresponsible and drank far too much Mad Dog 20/20 on nights out and other such unwise things, underwear was mostly impractical, lacy and – in the case of the Wonderbra – designed to make the most of my very limited assets through the cunning application of scaffolding and cantilevering and other miraculous feats of engineering.

How times change, eh? These days what I mostly look for are underwires that aren’t going to stab me halfway through a meeting and multipacks of pants in the right size and shape in Tesco. No one should feel too much sympathy for my beloved at this point: I am sure he’d far rather I wasn’t being tortured by my bra than anything else. My frustration often lies in the fact that the sizes left in the supermarket are either for skinny twigs or the larger trees – or if there are any in my size they are enormous ‘granny’ pants in some hideous shade of beige or soon-to-be-grey white. Supermarket pants also tend to be made of very thin cotton lycra fabric and trim which has a lot of stretch but frays easily.

Solving this problem became much easier when I bought an overlocker and began to make my own. You can make your own underwear with a normal sewing machine as long as you have a reliable stretch stitch and the ability to vary the length of your stitches, but at the time my basic Brother machine didn’t have that capability. The overlocker means you can whip up multipacks of your very own in short order.

The first ones I made were the amazing Wonder Undies by Waves and Wild, closely followed by the Speedy Pants for the children – Thing 2 absolutely loves them and I have made multiple pairs for her since. I love the fact that you can choose the waist rise and the leg style and that once you have the hang of it you can make them really quickly. I also love that you can use sensible colours or take advantage of all the mad prints out there – Thing 2’s favourites had unicorns all over them and I love my rainbow ones. This week I discovered Rad Patterns (another NY resolution gone….) and their Lucky Booty pattern. I really like the fact that Rad offer accessible patterns – wheelchair friendly skirts and tops with medical port access, for example.

You also get to make matching bras/crop tops – Waves and Wild came up with their Superstar Bra last year and Rad patterns had a few styles already. The rainbow one below is the Watson bra by Cloth Habit. The Watson also comes with a bikini pant pattern – I haven’t tried that yet but I’m sure I will. This afternoon I’ll be making up the Lucky Lingerie bra and some Wonder Undies for Thing 2.

The only trouble I have found is that home-made pants look absolutely ENORMOUS next to shop-bought – but they feel amazing (‘like a hug for your butt’ as one sewer put it) and last forever. If you haven’t had a go at making your own yet, you’re missing out.

It is, of course, only a small step from pants to swimming costumes – I embraced my inner mermaid this week and made a completely mad two piece using another Rad pattern (the Renee swimsuit) for the top and the Oasis pattern by Ellie and Mac for the bottoms. I wore it this morning for our winter swim (5°c in the water, 1°c out – brrrr!). The fabrics are foil prints from Pound Fabrics in emerald and a fabulous fish scale print which changes colour when it moves.

This week saw the last leaves added to the 2021 Temperature Tree – it’s been quite a ‘flat’ year for temperatures, so let’s see what 2022 brings. I’m doing the Climbing Goat Designs Rainbow Temperature Galaxy this year. I should probably have used the same colour palette but I have gone with the same one as the designer used.

Anyway – I need to go and defrost a bit more, so I’ll be back next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Bridgerton (1-6)Julia Quinn

The Unhappy Medium – T J Brown (badly in need of a good editor)

92: squelch squerch

This week my walking buddy Jill (cover photo artist!) and I have made the most of being off for Christmas and headed out ‘early doors’ (she’s from Yorkshire) for a couple of welly walks. We love our walks: we put the world to rights, appreciate the scenery, stomp on icy puddles and squish our way through the muddy ones. Some weeks she is grouchy, other weeks it’s me. We test out ideas for work or catastrophise in the knowledge that we can go into the office the next day with our heads back on straight. It’s like therapy. There’s something about walking next to someone, not facing them, that allows stress and those wake-you-up-at-3am thoughts to spill out.

Some days we go further than others: round the roads to Tawney Common, or across to Toot Hill, or round past Dial House and the farm to see the cows, or the old golf course and flood meadows. Sometimes it’s the short 5k through the woods and back, or to the end of the village. Whatever, I always come back feeling better and ready to face the week.

It was a week of extremes: one day it was -4°c and the world was white. The sun was coming up in spectacular fashion, the puddles were frozen and we crackled our way down to the farm and home via the station. The plan was to check what time the light fantastic train was running that day so we could drag the kids up to Marconi Bridge to watch it go through, but they were only doing the Santa Special till after Christmas. We allowed ourselves to be seduced by the smell of frying bacon from the station cafe and indulged in a bacon roll and tea, listening to the brass quartet playing Christmas carols and watching overexcited kids waiting for Santa’s train to arrive.

The following day was much warmer so the puddles were squelchy once more (as you can see from the cover photo). That day’s route took us through the fields to the radio station (hence Marconi Bridge) and past North Weald Redoubt, finishing up at Jill’s house for tea and a rummage through boxes of craft stuff from a friend’s house clearing. I was very good and only came home with a few balls of yarn and some toy eyes. My plan this week was to try and destash some craft things from the shed, not bring home more – I did send some yarn up to Jill’s mum, and got rid of a whole lot of jewellery making stuff, which was a start.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed at least a few days off and will be grabbing the opportunity for a Boxing Day welly walk – we have A, H and the grandchild over today, but I’m looking forward to a few more walks this week.

All can now be revealed…

As it’s after Christmas I can share the gifts I made – the wall hanging was for our Dungeonmaster and his wife and I made them open it while I was there playing board games on Monday. The ‘Eira Owls’ were for their daughters. The little pigs in granny square blankets have been ridiculously popular and I ended up making more than 20 of them as Christmas ‘cards’* for colleagues and my swimming buddies, and then as requests for people who’d seen them on Facebook. They’ve gone off to Wales, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and London. I still have several to do after Christmas but I have to get two presents out in January and a couple for February first!**

(* I don’t send cards to anyone but immediate family, but donate to a charity every year instead – this year it was the Trussell Trust. I make little decorations that can be brought out year after year – I love seeing people’s photos of their trees with my work on!)

(** Yes, I am taking orders. They are £6 each plus postage!)

I hope you’ve all had a great Christmas with family and friends, that you’re all safe and warm and looking forward to 2022. By the time next week’s post appears we’ll be in a whole new year!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Untold Story – Genevieve Cogman

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (Audible)

A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler

The Toast of Time – Jodi Taylor

The Long and the Short of it – Jodi Taylor (Audible)

90: a festive poem*

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas and here in Dukes Close

The mother was getting exceeding morose

Three weeks of Covid and labyrinthitis

Had left her with anti-holiday-itis.

Enforced isolation surrounded by kin

Has left her in need of a very large gin.

We’ve watched both the Chronicles, the Muppets and Elf

My Christmas list is solely ‘some time to myself’.

Thing 2 had been nagging to get out the tree

There’s tinsel all over the cat, floor and me.

Their daddy was outside stringing up lights

Along with the rest of the road – what a sight!

There’s Santa and snowmen and snowflake projectors

And probably some cunning reindeer deflectors.

The turkey’s too big for the freezer this year

And Asda online’s substitions are weird

I asked for some candy canes for the tree

But they sent me a single tube of Smarties.

There’s pigs in their blankets and roasties of course

Yet again I’ve forgotten the cranberry sauce.

Upstairs the presents are rapidly stacking

My heart sinks anew at the prospect of wrapping

The stockings are still in the attic, sure enough

So ‘Santa’ had better go shopping for stuff

To fill up the socks so there’s something to open –

Has anyone noticed I’m really not copin’?

(*with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

Pigs in blankets

What I’ve been reading:

Still Life/Dead Beat– Val McDermid

Laidlaw/The Papers of Tony Veitch/Strange Loyalties – William McIlvanney

The Dark Remains – Ian Rankin and William McIlvanney