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

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)

83: where the hell are all the teaspoons?

…and other such middle aged concerns.

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

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

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

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

(*no, sweetie, you’re stuck with us)

Sewing b*&!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

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

82: thinking like designers – or possibly chickens

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

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

Photo and chickens courtesy of Chinami Sakai

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

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

The materials the children were given

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile…

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

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

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

Comet in Moominland – Tove Jansson (Audible)

81: it’s showtime!

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

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

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

‘I do believe we are muted’ – Philippa Moggridge

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

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

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

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

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

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

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

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

76: back to school

Normal service resumes after the last couple of weeks! It’s September after all, with the new school year kicking off: new shoes, new bits of uniform ordered if not actually delivered thanks to the shipping delays, driver strikes and shortages that definitely aren’t anything to do with Brexit, good heavens no, timetables downloaded, last minute coursework that Thing 1 assured me all summer she’d done, and so on.

Last weekend I braved Westfield (is it only me that feels the need to shout ‘Westfield! in a bad Radio 1 DJ sort of way?) with Thing 2 in order to buy school shoes. She has very very wide feet (an I fitting) so I knew Harlow at the end of August really wasn’t going to provide what we needed. Instead we had a mum and daughter day out shopping. We also needed school trousers, as we haven’t been able to find the particular style she wants online – the Next ones came up like thick leggings, the George ones were too high waisted, the suggestion of the Banner or Trutex ones either earned me a withering look or weren’t in stock (ditto New Look, Very, Tu, Morrisons, Matalan – everywhere!).

Tim Westfield! Westwood. WestWOOD. Not field.

Thing 2 has been, from a very early age, a child who knows her own mind. In many ways this makes me proud. In other ways it makes me want to slug gin in my coffee and leave her to it. Despite Westfield’s (Westfield!) many shops, we failed to find either shoes or trousers so I ended up buying shoes we could both live with online and she can either alter her thinking about the kind of trousers she wants or wear skirts for the year. I too can be stubborn. We did have a lovely lunch at Wagamama followed by bubble tea for her, and she chose some new clothes at Primark and New Look as well as some bits and bobs from Flying Tiger. I bought some more notebooks – I do love some stationery!* I took her over to the less shiny side of Stratford too, as she wanted some baskets for her bedroom: after Westfield (etc) I think the old Stratford Centre came as a bit of a shock to the system. I used to shop there when I first lived in London as it was the closest place to Forest Gate. It hasn’t changed much, really, in the last 25 years. The planners tried to make it look pretty by installing shiny leaf sculptures (or possibly fish) in front of it in 2012 in case tourists happened to glance in that direction on their way to the Olympics, but it didn’t really help. I suspect some actual investment might have been a better idea, except that just didn’t happen, and what they were left with was an island of Poundlands and Shoe Zones.**

The ‘Stratford Shoal’ by Studio Egret West in 2012. It’s not so shiny now.

*as it turned out I did not need to buy notebooks as I came home with many many new notebooks from the Digital Accountancy Show I worked at later in the week. Ah well. Still, you never know when you’ll need a notebook. Or ten.

**I could go on about the regeneration of Stratford for 2012 at length, but I won’t because it makes me quite annoyed.

Making and doing

I had a few days to recover from the ordeal of shopping with Thing 2, so obviously this involved fabric and leaving pins all over the floor, crochet and cross stitch. After the challenge of making Irish sister’s 1920s skirt I gave in and bought the Japanese Haori and Hapi pattern from Folkwear that I have been ogling for several years. They are not cheap patterns, but come with wonderful histories of the garments and traditional detailing information. They are also adding more and more of their paper patterns to their PDF catalogue, which makes me happy indeed.

I used a gorgeous fabric from Kanvas Studio – Moonlit Lilypads from their Moonlight Serenade collection, and for the lining some tie-dyed cotton that was sold as a star print but when it arrived the print was distinctly…. herbal. The fabric is a one way print which the pattern isn’t suitable for but I rather like how its turned out despite that.

I made the Haori option – a lined, mid-thigh length jacket which comes up quite long on me. The pattern was occasionally a bit confusing to follow, with hand drawn illustrations, but as long as I took it slowly and did a lot of pinning and tacking it wasn’t too bad to construct. My hand sewing is shocking, so if I ever decide to enter the Sewing Bee I’ll have to work on that, and I cheated by machine stitching some of the bits I should have slip stitched but hey, I’m the one wearing it. I love the sleeves, and this is quite cosy to wear so I think it should get a lot of use.

Continuing the Japanese theme, I used some of the leftover koi fabric from making a Simple Sew Lottie blouse to make this Nori Kimono bag. I lined it with some ladybird print polycotton fabric that was an ebay purchase, and it’s had a compliment or two already. I haven’t worn the blouse yet! I love this fabric, it’s so colourful.

As ever I have been cross stitching and crocheting: the temperature tree is up to date, the Hobbit Hole is finished, the Build Your Own Beehive Shawl and the socks are ongoing, and I took a break to make a chicken sweater as one of my lovely colleagues adopted some commercial laying hens (not battery ones!). These are all the bits I haven’t shared with you in my last couple of sensible weeks.

The chicken-adopting colleague, myself and two others also visited Tate Modern to see their summer activity – drawing freely in the Turbine Hall as part of the Uniqlo Tate Play programme. The artwork is amazing and it was great fun adding our little bits to it! I really want to make something out of one of those banners!

The latest thing I have been up to is dabbling in Dungeons and Dragons for the first time in about three decades – I filled in for someone who couldn’t attend a regular game on Friday and managed not to kill his character off so hopefully I’ll be allowed back! The host (Dungeon Master) and his wife have a beautiful gaming table so dice trays are very much the order of the day – I played around with an online tutorial yesterday, and using things from in the craft shed I made a collapsible fabric one and another using a shadow box frame. I’d forgotten how horribly velvet frays so I shall have to do something about the edges but it was quite quick and fun to make.

It’s been a very productive few weeks, as you can see! I’ll see you all again for week 77…now I must go and do the ironing I have been putting off for months.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Soul Music/Sourcery – Terry Pratchett

Thief of Time – Terry Pratchett (Audible)

73: constructing a history mystery

Previously on What Kirsty Did Next…

The pattern Irish Sister (let’s call her Steph, as it’s her name) and I chose over a Zoom call was the Cordelia skirt from Wearing History. These Resto-Vival™ Patterns are original historic patterns that have been restored and revived, and have had pattern markings and sizings added that the modern sewer is used to seeing rather than the basic perforations that were common in early sewing patterns. While making this I was watching the Great British Sewing Bee’s early series, and I had a lot of sympathy for the sewers encountering their first 1930s pattern! We chose to make the skirt in street-length (with no train) and in a plain grey cotton sateen from Ray Stitch which I thought would have the drape and weight needed for the shape we were after. Ray Stitch offers a thread matching service, which we took advantage of, as I wasn’t sure if I’d have the right grey in my stash. We also needed ‘belting’ which turned out to be grosgrain ribbon.

Steph sent me the measurements we needed, and as she fell between sizes we chose to go slightly larger for breathing purposes, and so she could wear the correct historical layers underneath if needed. She – like me – is not blessed with great height and this is a skirt that runs long, so I had to redraft the length and then the back: the shortening had to be done at about thigh length, rather than from the bottom. As so much length was lost I was able to cut out the skirt on the cross-grain, which meant I didn’t have to piece the fabric. The original skirt was made from one piece of fabric, seamed up the back and given shape through waist darts where the side seams would sit and further darts in the belting.

How straightforward, I thought! What was I worried about?

And then I realised it called for dress weights, which I had never used before although Google tells me they are still popular with various royals who need to maintain their dignity while getting off aeroplanes in windy places. Hurray for Google, eh? Neither were there any instructions for fastening the skirt, or indeed many for making the skirt up, despite it being only one seam and some darts. Basically: sew darts, sew skirt together, add the belt.

A quick message via Etsy to the very helpful Lauren, owner of Wearing History, solved the fastening question: she added a placket with snaps and a hook and eye. After consultation with Steph we decided we could get away with adding a zip as they were invented in 1913 and the character she will be playing on film is from 1921 (the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland). I went for an invisible zip, as it should also be hidden by her middy blouse. Originally I put it in properly, but then I had to take it out as the skirt needed to be taken in after finishing it, so then went back to my much quicker method. The pattern weights were more of an issue as I tacked them in but they didn’t want to stay tacked. Every time I shook out the skirt they fell off. I didn’t want to fix them in permanently in case Steph didn’t feel they were necessary!

For once I was good and tacked the waistband in before stitching it down – I am not a tacker usually, as I am a lazy sewer and prefer pins. I’m glad I did, as I had to adjust some width out of the waist after I’d tacked it in. My dressmaking mannequin, known as Lucy, came in very handy this week for measuring as well as for keeping in progress pieces on!

Here is the finished skirt – I think it turned out OK, and it’s in the post to NI already. I just hope it fits…

I also packed off a pair of historic pockets – I have been obsessed with making these this week. The pattern is by Hamblemouse, who is starting a pocket revolution inspired by the parlous state of pockets in women’s clothing. I love adding pockets to things, so the idea of pockets that you can just add to whatever you’re wearing is genius. Women used to wear these under their clothing, and then handbags came along – but what if you need your hands free? There’s an excellent history of pockets on the site if you’re interested – I love the idea of keeping gin and kittens in them, frankly.

I started with a couple of sets made from leftovers from other projects, and then I got overexcited and used some leftover jelly roll strips to make some single ones, which might be the most gorgeous things I have ever made. They look like sunsets and they are perfectly pressed (for a change). These are too lovely to hide, and I may make them for every conservator I know for keeping useful things (and gin and kittens) in.

I’ve also made a cross-back apron, using this fabulous free pattern and tutorial from Hey June Handmade – a colleague was wearing a calico one for a workshop last weekend and it reminded me that I had wanted to make one. Toast have one for sale for £69 – mine was made from denim leftovers and bound with home-made bias binding left over from a quilt last year. The leftovers are from the Morgan jeans I cut out weeks ago and started making this week – all done apart from buttons and rivets, as I discovered I had run out of jeans buttons.

Seven years ago I cut out a pile of Japanese knot bags, made one for a teacher gift for Thing 2’s Year 1 teacher, half finished a couple of others and then left the rest. These are also handy small bags that slip on your wrist, so I have FINALLY finished them this week (every year I have got them out and added them to the to-do pile, and every year I have put them away again…).

My final make of my week off was a dress, using the Ariana midi dress pattern from Sew Magazine – a free template download of a buffet-style dress. I used some lovely star print fabric (at least, it was lovely till I started trying to cut it) that I bought last year – I’d been going to make an Anna dress with it but it’s too fine. The bodice is lined with plain black polycotton sheeting, and for some reason the pattern calls for a lined bodice and a facing. I left out the lining fabric facing as it was totally unnecessary. Much cursing was done over the gathering of the tiered skirt – I think I should just be grateful it was only two tiers – as well as over the bodice instructions. It’s turned out OK but is definitely a maxi rather than a midi – I should have taken a few inches out of the first tier, I think. If I make it again…. oh, who am I kidding? I’m never doing that bodice again.

My last sewing job this week has been to go to a friend’s house and help get their daughter started with patchwork – she had a sewing machine for Christmas and what with Covid etc it’s taken a while to get round to the promised lesson! I started with straight line sewing on paper and then we made a simple nine-patch block, which hopefully will get her going!

Tomorrow I am back to work so the sewing machine will be getting a rest! I have two blouses cut out, from a favourite Simple Sew pattern, but they can wait….

See you next week! I have to start thinking about school uniform soon, and the annual trauma of the school shoes….

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness – Bill Bailey

Lost for Words – Stephanie Butland

From the Shelf of Shame:

Addlands – Tom Bullough

Meadowland – John Lewis-Stempel

72: it’s not goodbye, it’s au revoir

This week I have not done a lot, really – work, read, enough stitching and crocheting to make my arm and shoulder ache, watched a lot of films (with Jason Statham in, for some reason – not my choice) and fed a lot of children.

I did go out on Wednesday: to give blood (donation 24! The things I do for a mint Club) and then into Bethnal Green where we said goodbye to the old Museum of Childhood before the base builders etc move in for the next couple of years. It was a quiet goodbye, with a lot of faces missing from the team I joined four years ago: a few through natural career progression but more thanks to the many restructures that we have been through in that time. I also ate at Chiringuito in Bethnal Green for the first time (fish tacos) and learned more about flying ants than I ever thought I needed to know. This is what comes of working in museums, where we acquire random bits of information through being incurably curious about pretty much everything. Top tip for you people out there – curators and other museum people are good to have on pub quiz teams*.

Photo by Helena Rice

For the next two years we are wandering souls, washing up in small groups in corners of the V&A at South Kensington, clutching our laptops and wondering where we left our pen last week. 40% of our time is ‘on-site’ at the moment, though for the learning team that time is currently out and about with our blue blocks, which is great fun even in the rain. (I am writing this on Saturday morning, by the way, as tomorrow I will be out with the team all day at The Get Together in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park).

This seems to be a fairly normal work pattern right now, as far as I can tell. Hybrid working, blended working, whatever you want to call it, seems to be here to stay, certainly in the non-people-facing jobs. It’s good not to have to commute all the time, and platforms like Teams and Zoom are making it easier to stay in touch with colleagues, but I do miss the spontaneous Friday lunches and the kitchen chats, or feeding the ducks on a lunchtime walk. It’s too easy when working at home to not have those social moments. In ‘normal’ times you spend 36 hours a week with your colleagues, and if you have good ones (I do) they become your work family. I miss the kettle moments (water cooler moments, presumably, in those nations less reliant on tea for functioning), team problem solving in the office (gang, have you got a minute?), people popping in and out to raid the biscuit tin. Our office was the home of the biscuit tin, which meant we knew what was going on on the floor as people came in for Oreos and hugs. Mostly I just miss people!

*However, a whole quiz night made up only of museum people is a terrifying experience. If you are the quizmaster/mistress, be very very sure that your answers are correct, or the likelihood of a dawn duel with historically accurate weaponry is high. You have been warned.

Why my arm aches…

This week I started the shawl pictured here – the Build Your Own Beehive Shawl CAL by Fleabubs and Lala. I did not need another project, but this was such a pretty pattern and I already had the yarn sooooo…. the yarn is Stylecraft Batik Swirl in the Rainbow colourway. The shawl is made up of ten-row repeats of three different stitches – trellis, pollen and honeycomb. It feels a bit more scarfy than shawly to me at the moment, despite increasing the starting chain from 60 to 80, but my friend Ruth who pattern tested it says it pays for blocking. I hope so – when it comes to scarves and shawls I definitely lean towards the dramatic swish and swirl rather than the single wrap! Perhaps this is what comes of working in historic buildings, where ‘work blankets’ are definitely a thing in the winter.

I’ve also made progress on the Hobbit Hole – only the lettering to go now, which is exciting, and then I need to frame it and find it a home.

I am off work next week. About half an hour after booking the time off, Irish sister messaged me…

How could I resist? So this week I’ll be making a skirt for a 1921 schoolmistress, using a historic pattern that is very light on instructions. That’s the problem I have found with vintage patterns: the publishers assumed that all women had been taught the basics of sewing and garment construction and knitting and crochet, either by their mother or in school. That’s not the case these days, sadly, so this week will be a learning curve all round!

I am off now, as we are going to see Timeshare 1 and the grandson shortly. See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Lost Tribes of Pop – Tom Cox

Stardust – Neil Gaiman (Audible)

From the shelf of shame….

Jigs and Reels – Joanne Harris

Holy Fools – Joanne Harris

Meadowland – John Lewis-Stempel

70: I promise you, you’ll love it

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….

Kirsty x

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)