54: one of those weeks

It’s been a funny old week, really. At work we were coming to the end of the consultation period for what we hope was the last phase of the restructure (for a while, anyway) and, being a union rep, its been a bit frenzied for the last couple of months. The people I have been supporting have been angry, confused, upset, worried – about themselves, their colleagues and friends, and the collection – and frustrated. It’s been made more difficult as there was an anonymous leak to the press before it was announced to the museum staff, so the process has been happening under scrutiny from the broadsheets, Radio 4, a few of the arts journals and even parliament, where an early day motion was brought about the National Art Library.

I have come away from the process knowing a lot more about the workings of the conservation and curatorial teams, and have seen the museum values of generosity, collaboration and innovation demonstrated by the staff on a daily basis. The term ‘grace under fire’ has never made more sense, particularly as some of the meetings were being led by people whose jobs were also at risk of redundancy. It’s never felt more important to be a part of the union.

The kids have also been at home for their Easter holidays, which always makes online meetings more of a challenge! At least I wasn’t trying to manage home learning as well as the meetings, which really would have been the final straw. As it was, I made it as far as Wednesday and then decided I’d take Thursday off to clear my head.

Wednesday evening was a bit of a treat. As part of the rehoming of the learning collection I had sent some boxes off to Northern Ireland to Time Steps Living History, which is a historical interpretation company. Owned by Ireland sister, Time Steps provides sessions in schools, community venues, care homes, and historic sites and celebrated 10 years in business this week. ‘Sent some boxes’ sounds quite straightforward, doesn’t it? It skims over the fact that in the process I have had to raise a complaint with Hermes who won’t accept parcels for NI as they think it’s international (their international site thinks otherwise), and have a lengthy web chat with DPD whose delivery driver was unable to raise the museum contact despite having two phone numbers, a one hour slot when people were actively looking out for them and detailed instructions on which gate to use. Still, they got there in the end.

Where was I? Oh yes, Wednesday evening. Ireland sister and I videochatted while she unpacked the boxes, as I’d forgotten what was in them. It felt like Christmas for me, watching her discover tiny clogs, lots of ephemera, historic costume replica, toys, and more. All these things have been hidden in boxes in our cupboards, and now they’ll be having a new life when she can get back into schools and the community. My niece and nephew were also on the call – she is a mini history buff and he is incurably curious, pouncing on the wooden toys and experimenting. After a really hard few days (weeks!) it was wonderful to bring a bit of joy to someone.

My gorgeous niece Catrin modelling a replica bonnet. Image © Time Steps/Stephanie Lavery

Thursday became a bit of a mental health day, with reading and making things and generally not looking at screens except when I wanted to. It was lovely to be able to talk to the Things without having to take a pair of earphones off, be able to listen to the Minecraft explanations without half my mind being on my next meeting, and to be able to sit in silence at times. Silence is under-rated in these days of working from home and hyperconnectedness.

I have also managed to swim twice this week. The urge to get back in the water – chilly or not – has been so strong in the past few weeks that I’ve been able to visualise the chill of the water as it creeps up the legs of my wetsuit. On Monday I was so happy afterwards I got the giggles, as well as the silly grin we all get. The air was warmer than the water, which was sitting at 9 degrees, so getting changed was quite pleasant. Yesterday, the water was 10.6 degrees and the air was in single figures with a biting wind, so I was glad of my onesie with no awkward fastenings. In the van next to us a little girl had put her face underwater and got brain freeze – luckily I still had some hot chocolate left in the flask to share with her!

Copped Hall walk

Last Sunday my beloved and I dragged Things Two and Three out for a walk (Thing One was having a bit of a wobble so didn’t join us). We parked up behind the cricket pitch in Epping, crossed over the M25 on the Bell Common tunnel and followed the footpath up to Copped Hall. I’d never been up there before, but had always had the footpath earmarked for exploration at some point.

The path takes you down through a field where we could see a herd of deer ahead of us, and past a pillbox which is part of the Outer London Defence Ring – it was the second one listed in this blog post if you want more details! You then follow the road up past some very large houses (Rod Stewart is a former resident on the estate) and finally come up to Copped Hall itself. The kids loved climbing the tree outside and sitting on the haha watching the world go by. The walk back took us past woodlands swathed in primroses and violets, past the deer again and up a steep hill bordered by blackthorn in bloom. Copped Hall itself is being restored by volunteers, so it’s not open to the public apart from a few days a year, but we are planning to go back on one of those.

So that’s been my week! Today I was out at 7am ‘checking to see if the Easter Bunny had been hiding eggs in the garden’. I had hoped that this phase of my life was over, but the horror on the face of Thing Two when I tried to suggest that the Easter Bunny had already given me the eggs for them melted my resolve. This afternoon we are going to see Timeshare Teenager #1 and the grandchild for the first time since last summer, and the sun is just coming out so hopefully it’ll be a bit warmer! Happy Easter to you all: may it be peaceful and filled with the things that bring you joy.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

The Animals at Lockwood Manor – Jane Healey

A Private Cathedral (Dave Robicheaux) – James Lee Burke

A Dangerous Man – Robert Crais

Vesuvius by Night – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

A Comedy of Terrors (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week forty one: goodbye 2020

The wish ‘happy new year’ has quite possibly never been said by so many people with so much fervency (is that a word?) as it has been this year. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some bad years before: 1994 was pretty horrendous, as was 2003, but those weren’t universally bad. I was glad to see the back of them but felt pretty hopeful about the future. And, to be honest, announcements of vaccines this week are giving me hope for 2021.

Have a cat, because there’s about to be a lot of text.

And 2020, despite all the challenges, hasn’t been all bad. Yes, there were the cancelled holidays, the various levels of lockdown, Covid-19 as a thread across the year, worry about my nurse friends and my vulnerable family members, Christmas without family and so on, but to end the year I’m going to share the things that gave me joy. In no particular order, I give you…my top ten of 2020:

  1. I’ve had six unexpected months with the Things, which is the longest time I’ve been able to spend with them since maternity leave. Maternity leave is wonderful, but you have a tiny baby, no sleep, you’re juggling any other children you have, and trying to remain an actual person at the same time. In my case, too, I had post-natal depression with both Things 1 and 2 which made the whole experience somewhat frightening, especially with Thing 1, when I didn’t know what was happening to me. So, six months with my children, spending time with them now they’re independent, finding out what they love to do, going on walks, learning new skills with them: thank you 2020, for giving me that.
  2. The glorious summer! Can you imagine being in lockdown without that wonderful weather, in a typical rainy British summer season?
  3. The garden. My beloved and I were both furloughed, and had we not had the garden we’d have been under each other’s feet constantly. We are lucky to live where we do, and the garden at the end of this year – thanks entirely to my beloved – looks amazing. It’s filled with birds at the moment: as I look out of the window I can see an enormous rook, wood pigeons, collared doves, a robin, blue tits and great tits. We have goldcrests, dunnocks, sparrows, nesting blackbirds, occasional woodpeckers and jays. This year I have learned to love the noisy, scrappy, playful brood of magpies that hatched in a tree behind the garden – and to have great sympathy for their put-upon mother.
  4. Open water swimming. We came late to this, starting in July, but it’s been a sanity saver for all of us. Swimming in the summer was wonderful, surrounded by the coot chicks and the grebes, but if anyone had said to me then that I’d be looking forward to getting in a sub-5 degree lake on New Year’s Day I’d have laughed. I never thought I’d take up an extreme sport but apparently this is ice swimming – and I love it. I’m a head-up breast stroker, not a front crawler, but at Redricks this is fine: everyone is made to feel welcome. The mental health and physical benefits have been heavily documented by other people in much more learned spaces, but I have to agree with them!
  5. Our local countryside – I live in North Weald in Essex, and I do a lot of walking anyway, having trained for and completed a couple of walking marathons. This year there are no events, so I have been walking for the sheer joy of it. Being at home for most of the year and being able to just ramble, watching the hedgerows and wildlife, not having to be anywhere: it’s been so mindful, just slowing down and watching the world and the seasons change. On any walk I may see rabbits, red kites, muntjac and fallow deer, and hares as well as fields of horses and cows, friendly cats and lots of dogs. It’s cheaper than therapy, too: my friends and I put the world to rights, and when Thing 2 joins me we spend time looking for tiny fungi and mosses.
  6. Zoom and WhatsApp: I may not have been in Wales with my family but we can still see each other and chat. This year we have had a wider clan WhatsApp chat which gets very silly at times, I have conversations with my sisters and with the whole family. We can still share the things that make us laugh, and then we realise that the whole clan shares the warped sense of humour.
  7. This blog! It’s been such a cathartic experience: sharing when I am down or angry or frustrated, talking about the things I love to do, taking you all on a journey through my creation processes. It’s not a curated lifestyle blog, or a foodie blog, or a crafty blog: it’s just me. I try and be honest, whether that’s about my mental health or my reaction to government policy. I try and be wry and look sideways at disasters. Hopefully I succeed! I use Facebook as a daily microblog, too – keeping a count of the days, with three highlights, positives or disasters of the day. In work writing these days tends to be figures, and proposals, and reports – I have loved the chance this year to write because I want to – and to write what I want to.
  8. The people I work with: Microsoft Teams has kept us all in contact, as has Zoom for those social moments. I am so lucky to work with a core team of brilliant people – we are tightknit, we care about each other, and we have felt supported by each other throughout. The museum we are creating is going to be amazing, and I can’t wait for the days when Monday meetings are round a table and not on screen again. I genuinely love my job.
  9. Making, of course. Crochet, dressmaking, cross stitch, quilting: 2020 has given me time to hone old and learn new skills. Obviously there’s still more to learn, but the act of creating and sharing my creations has given me such pleasure this year. Designing my own cross stitches and sharing those has boosted my confidence, too. I just need to get back to work now to wear all those clothes….
  10. My friends: socially distanced coffees in front gardens, people to walk with, to see over Zoom and Houseparty, to make plans with for ‘when things are normal’. I have never been that mum at the school gate as I have always been working, but this year I have really appreciated the chance to walk up daily with my neighbour and their puppy, to see other parents, and to feel part of village life.
  11. Staged, with Michael Sheen and David Tennant. A comedy that perfectly captured the 2020 zeitgeist: Zoom, spending so much time at home, turning our focus locally, working so differently. And Season Two starts this week! OK, so that’s 11 – but this programme is definitely a bonus!
My top nine Instagram posts (@ladybirdkirsty)

So, 2020 – thank you for all the above. Thanks also to the key workers – not just the frontline NHS crews who’ve really, really, really earned a pay rise rather than claps, but to the retail staff, the cleaners, public transport people, and – the unsung heroes – the teachers who’ve been juggling conflicting and frankly bonkers government advice, online and in-person teaching, pastoral care on unprecedented levels, given up their holidays to care for key worker and vulnerable children, who are now spending this holiday trying to plan mass testing, remote learning and more while being abused by the red-tops for ‘laziness’ and ‘cowardice’. The two schools my Horde attend have been brilliant throughout and their care and dedication is being echoed across the country.

I am not given to New Year’s resolutions, but if I were, mine would be to take the positives from 2020 forward into this year: to slow down and watch the seasons change, to appreciate the time I have with my children, to keep being creative and learning new skills, to keep writing and swimming and finding the positives.

It’s not Christmas without a Dalek

One of the things I like to do between Christmas and New Year is a big jigsaw – you may remember this one from my charity shop trawl before Christmas. It took three days, and those Daleks were trickier than they looked. Things 2 and 3 dropped in to help occasionally, and I took up most of the table, and thankfully it didn’t have any pieces missing – not bad for £1.75! And all finished in time for this year’s Doctor Who special on New Year’s Day which was fantastic, to quote Nine – sad to see Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole go, but bringing John Bishop on board is going to be interesting. Catherine Tate was surprisingly good once I put enough distance between her and her sketch show characters, as was Matt Lucas, so why not John Bishop?

In crafty news, I’m still working on the Hobbit cross stitch… and have so many more geeky patterns on the to-do list! Not much crochet has happened, but it’s not going anywhere.

Do you think he knows about second breakfast?

Facebook memories threw up a quote I’d shared a couple of years ago the other day, and it inspired me to create pixel people of the family and to design a new pattern – I started with squared paper and pencils, as I’m not confident enough to work directly into StitchFiddle yet, and then transferred into the software afterwards. I made a lot more use of the floss chart, too, but need to test it against the swatch book as soon as I remember where I put it this time.

The pixel people templates came from here, and the fonts were from a book I bought a few months ago and this set on Etsy as I wanted to use a range of lettering. I am not sure about using the coloured dots in the ‘Friends’ font (the word ‘nice’), and I might go back to the original one from my pencil drawing. The idea was to incorporate some of the things the kids have enjoyed – Thing 1 binged Friends earlier this year, and Harry Potter is always a favourite.

The final pixel family – the kids love their minis, but my beloved thinks he should have a swagbag over his shoulder. Note that Lulu is next to him, as he’s her favourite human!

I’ve also done a lot of walking – very muddy, very icy, very beautiful.

I’m looking forward to my third dip of the week later this morning – we swam on the 29th and on New Year’s Day. We didn’t have to break the ice in the end, despite being a bit concerned as the temperature didn’t get above one degree on New Year’s Eve! It was so cold, but we felt amazing afterwards. The outside temperature right now is two degrees, but it is only 7am.

New Year’s Day at Redricks

On the subject of temperature, another new project I’ve decided on is a temperature cross stitch using this tree design, where you stitch the high temperature for each day. I’ve just seen that someone is doing two trees, one for highs and one for lows…. must. Resist!

So Happy New Year, everyone! Catch you at the end of week 42.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

That Old Black Magic – Cathi Unsworth

The Not Knowing – Cathi Unsworth

Help the Witch – Tom Cox

21st Century Yokel – Tom Cox

Week thirty: in which I am smacked in the head by the inspiration fairy

On Friday I woke up with a fully formed and irresistible urge to turn the iconic Marble Floor at the museum into a cross stitch pattern. It’s an idea I have been playing about with for the three years I have worked there, but neither my design skills nor my patience were really up to it.

So what’s changed? Well, for one thing, working on a project which is all about creative confidence, the iterative design process, and building resilience is clearly rubbing off on me! I felt much more prepared to give it a go than I have done previously.

Secondly, the response to the ‘Storming the Castle’ design I blogged about in week 28 has been so positive that I felt as if something more complicated was doable.

Finally, in the ‘Snarky and Nerdy Cross Stitch’ group files I’d seen a lot of references to an open source design programme called Stitch Fiddle, and when I looked into it it seemed easy to use even for a non-designer like me. For a free-to-use application it has great functionality, and even more if you subscribe. You can use it to create knitting and crochet patterns too, and presumably anything else that requires small squares.

So at 8am on Friday I asked any on-site colleagues to take a few photos of the floor for me – a close-up and a wider angle, and a few people sent me some great images. We work in museums, so slightly odd requests come with the territory.

I started with my trusty grid paper from StitchPoint, trying to turn the uneven blocks you can see in the image into a uniform pattern. The blocks were all made individually by women prisoners from Woking Gaol, and some are more even than others, so this was quite tricky to do. I wanted to create a repeating pattern, rather than an exact replica of the floor itself, and I found it hard to translate the tiles onto my graph paper.

I tried processing the image on the left through another free software application, this time Pic2Pat, so I could see what the blocks would look like on an even grid pattern. This came out like this:

Still not perfect, but much easier to work from! I was able to create a basic circle from this which I then turned into a repeating pattern using StitchFiddle. I haven’t found copy and paste functionality as yet, but for things like this it would be really handy. There is a mirror horizontally or vertically function, but you lose the original and are left with the reflected one only. I did use it later, when I was having problems repeating the fishscale pattern to the left – I flipped it and then carried on working to the right.

Then it got a bit tricky – I could not see where to start the overlay to create the fish scale pattern on the screen, so I went back to basics: I printed the pattern twice, stuck one together as the base layer and then cut circles out of that so I could layer them up with the handy glue stick and the coloured pencil so I could mark where I was up to.

Finally, armed with this, I went back to Stitch Fiddle and created a final digital version which can be found here. I’m going to add lettering to the version I’m going to make, so have been playing around with alphabets on the printed version – I’m not sharing that yet though! I also made a quick version of the Greek Key border. I can see myself using Stitch Fiddle more in the future, as I’d quite like to make more designs with quotes on.

I finished the ‘Storming the Castle’ piece as well, which I am pleased with. I need to iron it, and then decide on finishing – wall hanging or frame? Note the overlocked edges on the fabric too – I’ve never thought of doing that to prevent fraying before but will definitely be doing it every time now!

I’ve also been adding to my portable crochet project – the one I do on tubes, in queues and during zoom conferences when I need to focus. If my hands aren’t busy I find things to fidget with and get very distracted, but a granny square in hand keeps my eyes on the screen. I am making small squares this time, using leftover DK yarn from the stash – when it comes to sewing the ends in I will undoubtedly regret it. This will be a blanket, I think: I am going for a patchwork effect.

Won over by a onesie…

This morning was the third week of winter swimming at Redricks – the weather was cloudy but it wasn’t raining, which after this week of school run downpours was pretty impressive! I really look forward now to getting in the lake, despite knowing that it’ll be even colder than it was last week, and I know the ladies I go with feel the same.

I’m still swimming in a wetsuit, though only 3mm, and I have added neoprene socks and gloves to the kit which make a difference. You wouldn’t think they would, since the cold water is inside them, but there we are. The last thing I do before racing for the towels and hot chocolate is strip the wetsuit off and jump back in the water in ‘skins’ for a splash about which is quite exhilarating. You really do earn the hot chocolate. Here we are this morning – I’m a great believer in the icy plunge, but the other three don’t usually do it and claim that I’m mad.

Ladies of the Lake (photo by Isla Falconer)

The swimming kit bag seems to get bigger every week: mine now contains goggles (which I only wear in the sun), swimming hat, towfloat, a towel, the giant robe I made, a fleecy hat, thermal socks, neoprene gloves and socks…and a onesie. I have resisted onesies for years – possibly as every time I went places like Romford or Harlow shopping there would be fully grown adults wearing them in public. I was totally behind various Tesco and Asda stores when they said people in pyjamas would not be allowed in (I was going to add ‘especially if you’ve made the effort to put full make up on’ to this). But then I tried getting leggings and a top on after a cold swim, when none of your fingers work properly, and decided I’d try one. And – OMG – I was converted. I bought a plain navy zip-up one with a fleece-lined hood and a kangaroo pocket, and it was like wearing a hug. It’s become my go-to for post-swimming wear now: robe on over towel, strip off, pants on and onesie and I’m good to go.

There’s no excuse for this though. Sorry.

Full English: Photo by Isla, socks by Primark, sandals by Birkenstock

So that’s been my week. I’m still sorting the learning collection, discovering treasures that have been hidden in cupboards for years. This includes the little-known ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ edition Action Man, whose elastic joints have seized since 1964 into a very balletic pose, and a whole box of mint condition Star Wars figurines by Kenner. This week I’m onto toys (magnetic and mechanical), and hopefully the clothing collection.

And now I’m off to tuck up under a blanket and catch up with Bake Off… See you at the end of week 31!

Kirsty

What I’ve been reading:

Battle Ground (The Dresden Files) – Jim Butcher

Hard Time (Time Police) – Jodi Taylor

See Delphi and Die/Saturnalia (Falco) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Podcast: You’re dead to me (BBC Sounds app)

Week twenty nine: the magic of stories

Well, this has been a pretty miserable month so far for those of us working in the museum sector. Last week the V&A announced redundancies as part of the ‘recovery programme’, and this week the Museum of London followed suit. They aren’t the first by any means, and they won’t be the last: the Museums Association have a redundancy tracker on their site which this morning stands at just under 3,000 across the UK. Thank heavens for the unions – if you aren’t in one, join now.

These initial phases overwhelmingly affect the front of house, retail and visitor experience teams: the most diverse, the lowest paid, the ones who were on the front line longest at the start of lockdown, and the ones who were first to come back when we reopened.

You know, the ones who greet you on arrival, help you around the museum, take your payment in the shop. The ones who interact with you and share their vast knowledge: not just about exhibits and displays, but where the best places are for lunch with your fractious kids, what there is for you to do, and what else you might like to see.

And they are so versatile and talented: they research objects for ‘objects in focus’ talks, based on their own passions and interests. They develop and lead family and public tours. They tell stories. They run activities. They manage school groups in their hundreds, juggling the ones who are late for their sessions with the ones who came too early, and they mop up the ones who’ve been stuck in traffic. Spare pants for a damp child? Somewhere to empty the sick bucket? No problem.

They are also the ones in the line of fire when the building is evacuated, when there’s a first aid emergency, when the object they came specifically to see is no longer on display, when the café is too expensive, when the toilets aren’t working, when the school groups are too noisy, when there’s too many children in the museum. They smooth ruffled feathers with a smile on their face (even if they then come to the learning office for hugs and emergency biscuits).

Outside their museum jobs they are artists, illustrators, poets, designers of all types, PhD students, writers, jewellery makers, textile artists. Those beautiful props and puppets that support the stories you bring your kids to? Chances are they made those.

Some are hoping that the VE role is the first step onto the museum learning ladder, and some of my favourite colleagues over the years have started here. They are the ones who have the greatest understanding of the visitors for whom they are programming content, and who are the most outward facing.

We understand that these are strange and difficult times and the choice is to shed staff or potentially face the closure of museums across the country, possibly permanently. This week the Culture Recovery Fund announced lifeline grants awarded to smaller organisations – up to a million pounds – which will make a huge difference to their survival. I was really pleased that the Epping Ongar Railway, in my village, is one of the recipients.

It seems particularly insensitive, therefore, for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to announce this week that MPs would be receiving a £3,360 pay rise next year ‘in line with growth in public sector pay’. It will be interesting to see if other public sector workers – nurses, police, fireman, culture and heritage workers, street cleaners etc – are awarded rises at the same scale. I don’t think I’ll put money on it.

Seeking comfort in the familiar

Its been suggested that people with anxiety disorders or depression seek comfort in rewatching familiar films or TV series. You know what’s going to happen and you don’t need to process any new information: which, this year, when we have had so much to take in, has been particularly important. My version of this is re-reading books, and probably explains why I can only listen on Audible to books I have already read!

So this week I have been thinking about books from my childhood that I still go back to now.

  1. I’m going to start with the wonderful Dido Twite books by Joan Aiken. Officially this series starts with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, but I was introduced to them with Black Hearts in Battersea. These have elements of steampunk, mystery, adventure, the Arthurian legend and more. I was really pleased to discover a few years ago that there were some later books in the series that I hadn’t read. Joan Aiken also wrote magical short stories – I loved the collection A Necklace of Raindrops, illustrated by Jan Pienkowski.
  2. The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. There’s eight of these in the original canon, and some that were published posthumously which were based on her diaries. Highly romanticised ‘autobiography’, these books follow Laura and her family from the little house in the Big Woods (Wisconsin) to the wilds of Dakota, through to her marriage to Almanzo Wilder and their move to Missouri. I introduced Thing 1 to these books when she was in primary school, and she loved them too.
  3. The Railway Children by E.Nesbit. First serialised in 1905, this story dealt with some quite adult themes for the period – the imprisonment of the children’s father for spying, Russian dissidents – and I cry every single time I read it. Don’t even get me started on the film – I love both versions. The Psammead books are great too (Five Children and It, for example), as is The Book of Dragons.
  4. The Anne books by L.M. Montgomery. Starting with Anne of Green Gables and finishing with Rilla of Ingleside when our disaster-prone, red-headed heroine is all grown up and sensible, I love them all. So do my youngest sister and my niece, and I have started reading them to Thing 2 when she feels the need for a bedtime story.
  5. The Moomin books by Tove Jansson. Thing 2 is named after the author. Moomins are small, hippo-like creatures who inhabit Moominvalley. The Moominhouse is always open to wanderers and people in need – mischievous Little My, who gets left behind by the Mymble who just has too many children; Thingummy and Bob, who find the Hobgoblin’s treasure; free-spirited Snufkin; the Hemulen; the Snork and the Snorkmaiden. Moominmamma’s heart and handbag are big enough for everyone.
  6. Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence. Arthurian legend brought into 1960s/70s England and Wales. Magic and legend. Good versus evil. Don’t watch the film, not even Christopher Eccleston could save it.
  7. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. I do love the way magic appears in the real world – whether that’s fairies at the bottom of the garden, or the urban fantasy that I love now, I like the idea that there’s more to the world than we can see. I recommend The Owl Service by the same author, too.
  8. The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea. Pidge accidentally releases an evil serpent from a book, and he and his sister end up involved in a battle between good and evil. There’s lots of help from Celtic mythological characters, it’s funny and touching and I really, really wish the author hadn’t died before finishing the sequel.
  9. The Sword in the Stone by T.H.White. More Arthurian legend. This is the first part of The Once and Future King set, and it’s the one most people are familiar with from the wonderful Disney adaptation. The story of The Wart, an orphan looked after by Sir Ector and bullied by his foster brother Kay, this is the early days of King Arthur, before he pulls the sword from the stone. The rest of the books are pretty wonderful too.
  10. Honourable mentions go to The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories, Charlotte’s Web by E.B.White, C.S.Lewis’s Narnia books, the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome, the Green Knowe stories by Lucy M. Boston, Stig of the Dump by Clive King (and more – oh, so many more!)

There, that’s made me feel much more cheerful!

Jumper weather

I finished the crochet cardigan this week, and I LOVE it. It’s so cosy and warm, and the alpaca in the yarn makes it very soft. It’s oversized so I can fit layers underneath, and I can see this getting a whole lot of wear this winter. Thing 1 kindly modelled it for me, even though she protested as it wasn’t Goth enough.

The (Corona)Virus Shawl is also complete, using three balls of Drops Fabel – it’s not huge, so will be more of a scarf. What am I going to do in queues now?

I have started a stashbuster blanket for my new portable project – tiny (three round) granny squares in DK, using up leftover yarn from a couple of other blankets. I’m going for a patchwork effect this time, with lots of bright colours. My Coast blanket has another couple of rows – it just needs to be a foot or so longer, I think. The trouble with making giant blankets is that you get so toasty that you need a nap…

As you can see from the link, the Coast blanket is by Lucy at Attic 24 who designs the most gorgeous colourways and blanket patterns. It’s a shame to keep them in the house, really, so I am tempted to make one of her bags to carry around.

Tiny magic

Thing 2 has been going out for walks this week with some of her friends and their dog – she’s growing up and is enjoying being a bit more independent. Yesterday they were out with other friends so she went for a walk with me instead. Her only stipulation was that it had to be a muddy walk, so we duly donned wellies and headed off in search of puddles.

We ended up by the rope swing after tramping through the fields, and after a bit of play we wandered back through the woods. Thing 2 spotted some hearts in the trees while I was looking at textures, and then we started seeing lots of tiny things – tree fungi, mushrooms and moss that we enjoyed taking close-up photos of.

It was lovely to have some time with her. We crunched through leaves, looked under fallen branches and she even wanted to hold my hand occasionally….

This morning the intrepid Perimenopausal Posse headed off to Redricks for our second week of winter swimming – 11.8 degrees in the water, and sunny. Colder but less rainy than last week which really made a difference! Apparently we should be practising with cold showers in between swims….ha!

So that was week 29. I wonder what week 30 has in store?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

A Song for the Dark Times (Rebus) – Ian Rankin

The Postscript Murders (D.S. Harbinder Kaur) – Elly Griffiths

The Accusers/Scandal Takes a Holiday (Falco) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Listening to…

You’re Dead To Me (podcast) – Greg Jenner

Week twenty four: back to school

September has turned up already (anyone mentioning how many weeks it is till the C word will be met with short shrift – be warned!) and 2/3 of the Things are back at school. I am back at work three days a week for the next month, which will be putting a serious dent in my crafting time. Still, it was good to see the gang over the Teams app on Tuesday – less exciting were the 1000 emails lurking in the inbox after four months off. There’s exciting plans afoot, and I’m looking forward to getting to grips with our redevelopment project, making contact with my forum schools and perhaps even seeing colleagues in the flesh at some point.

School started for Things 2 and 3 on Thursday – first day of secondary for Thing 2 and Year 5 for Thing 3. Thing 3 is pretty pragmatic and when he heard which teacher he’d be having his response was ‘cool, he gives out sweets’. He loves learning and soaks up information like a sponge, so being back at school is going to be good for him.

Thing 2 was a bit worried about starting her new school. Only one person from her primary school was going to the same school, and although they were in the same form their teacher made the children sit alphabetically so they were separated. Her older sister doesn’t go back until this week so she didn’t even have the safety of knowing someone further up the school.

Diving straight in on day one was a challenge for her, too. From a very early age she has preferred to sit out and watch what’s happening around her, and to join in when she feels confident that she has the knowledge to navigate the activity. She doesn’t like to ask people for help as this would mean talking to unfamiliar adults. This has applied to school, to birthday parties, to new people – when she changed primary schools she was outraged on her first day as ‘people tried to play with [her], and they didn’t even introduce themselves!’ She was very quiet when we picked her up, and didn’t want to go in the next day at all. Luckily she had a better day on the Friday, and felt more confident.

The nice thing about working from home is that I can be around for the school run – better late than never! I rarely made it to school run when they were younger as I was always working. When Thing 1 was in Year 3 my beloved and I both went to pick them up from school and one of the other mums was very confused: “I hadn’t realised you two were together!”

School runs right now are a feat of almost military precision – all three of them now have different start and finish times, and the two schools are three miles apart. It’s going to be a juggling act over the next few weeks for sure. Still, both schools are doing an amazing job co-ordinating the return and making sure the children and parents are feeling confident about sending them back. The secondary school welcome was lovely, with the head and his team standing at the school gates.

40% crafty

As I said, this whole work thing has put a bit of a dent in my craft activity! I did whip up a new batch of face coverings this week as the edict came down that secondary school children were going to need to wear masks to move around school, if not during lessons.

I used the same pattern as last time but adapted it to be three layers rather than two – a quilting cotton weight outer layer and two finer cotton layers made from an upcycled curtain lining. The main curtain fabric was used as a quilt backing a few weeks ago, and the curtains themselves were from a local charity shop. (Full length ones and there’s still lots of fabric left! I paid about £5 for them so this fabric was an absolute bargain)

One of the outer fabrics (hot pink with added cats) was Thing 1’s primary prom dress that she wouldn’t fit any more and Thing 2 wouldn’t wear (she doesn’t do pink!), so more upcycling there – I’ll cut the rest of the dress into quilt patches. I was also quite lazy and overlocked the whole of the bottom edge rather than turning through a hole. The final alteration I made was to stitch the pleats down with two rows of stitching so they feel more secure.

On Friday and Saturday I worked on the Bento Box quilt I started a few weeks ago, using this tutorial. I ran out of the blender fabrics and had to wait for some more, so that held the project up. This week I pieced the final blocks together, ending up with a total of 33 although I may make some more. I have decided to do this one using the ‘quilt as you go’ method. I’ve never tried it before but it must be easier than wrestling six foot by five foot of three layered quilt sandwich through the machine, right? I’ve found a few tutorials on Pinterest, of course, so now I have a huge pile of blocks pinned to squares of batting and I’ve had a practice on one square so far. Stay tuned!

On a side note – I put this on my Instagram feed yesterday and tagged the fabric designer (Stuart Hillard – the fabric is his Rainbow Etchings range) and he commented on the pic. Did I fangirl? OF COURSE I DID.

I do like to be beside the seaside

We had a last summer holiday hurrah on Wednesday, packed our flip flops and towels and headed to Walton-on-the-Naze for the day as the kids have been desperate to go to the beach – so have I, to be fair. I hadn’t planned on going in the water as we usually go to Clacton and the water is brown and murky, but Walton – even though its only just round the coast – seemed much nicer. We got there just before high tide and the beach was underwater, so we wandered off in search of some lunch – this turned out to be some very good pizza which we ate on a bench in the shelter watching the seagulls. We did share our crusts with the seagulls, throwing them out over the sea where they caught them on the wing.

After lunch the beach was reappearing so we headed to the south of the pier and found a spot to colonise. The kids headed straight into the sea and demanded I joined them, so we had an hour or so bouncing through waves at neck height – the water was about the same temperature as the lake, so it was cool but bearable. The kids loved dodging the waves on the other side of the breakwater, and the adults enjoyed what was left of the sunshine.

Talking of lakes, I’ve had a couple of dips this week – the temperature is slowly falling and was 16.8 degrees this morning. On Monday Sue and I headed up with one of her children – it was chilly and rainy and we definitely earned the hot chocolate afterwards! On Saturday four of us went up together – slightly warmer at 17 degrees, but there was a general agreement to maybe think about getting some warmer gear. The hot drinks and brioches afterwards were most welcome.

This morning I did one lap in wetsuit and one in skins, much to the bemusement of my swim buddies. I have never been described as ‘hardcore’ before and I doubt I ever will be again!It wasn’t too cold but I definitely felt alive after – akin to the sensation of tea tree and mint shower gel, I’d say….

So that’s been my week! Thing 1 goes back to school on Tuesday to start the first year of her GCSEs. All three have decided they want packed lunches so that’s one more thing to remember. I have promised to make some flapjacks this afternoon for them to have as snacks, so I’d better get on with that. I also have an apple fudge cake on the list as we have a whole lot of apples that need using up and we’ve already had apple cake and apple and blackberry pie this week.

Teddy is taking everything in his stride…

See you for week 25!

Kirsty

What I’ve been reading:

Oranges and Lemons (Bryant and May series) – Christopher Fowler

Three Hands in the Fountain/Two for the Lions (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week twenty two: faeries at the bottom of the street?

Last week’s ‘What I’ve been reading’ included the latest in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, a long awaited event by the many fans of this urban fantasy series. (Side note: it ends on a cliff hanger and the second part isn’t due till September. Argh!) Urban fantasy is ‘a subgenre of fantasy in which the real world collides with the decidedly supernatural or magical world’ (blog,reedsy.com). A J Blakemont, an author, goes further and says,

“Urban fantasy is a hybrid genre that lives at the crossroads between fantasy, horror, science fiction, hardboiled, thriller, and romance. One might say that urban fantasy is a liminal genre; it exists where the other genres meet. It lives at the frontier between the mundane and the fantastical, the natural and the supernatural, between technology and magic. Every urban fantasy story involves some supernatural beings and/or humans with magical abilities; yet it’s also rooted in reality.”

Whatever it is, I love it. I don’t know whether it’s the crossover with hardboiled noir (see my girl detectives post for more ramblings on this subject) or whether its the idea that fairies and other fantastical creatures might be hiding round every corner, but I love discovering a new series – even more so if I am coming late to the discovery and there’s a lot to catch up on. Of course, then you have the problem of finishing the back catalogue and having to wait for the next one, but there we are!

I can thank my Dad for my interest in SF/Fantasy – his enormous library was where I started, with Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, Robert Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and Christopher Stasheff’s Warlock series, as well as Tolkien (of course). Dad shouldn’t be left unsupervised in Forbidden Planet, and Hay-on-Wye is a treasure trove for the whole family.

So this week I’m sharing some of my favourites with you. Please do share your own recommendations, I love a good read.

  1. Ben Aaronovitch – the Rivers of London series. River goddesses (and gods), underground societies, a whole department of the Met to deal with what one of the characters describes as ‘weird bollocks’, and all set in modern London? Aaronovitch cut his teeth on the Doctor Who team so his credentials are excellent. The graphic novels alongside the ‘main’ novels are great too.
  2. Kim Harrison – the Hollows series. Set in Cincinnati after ‘The Turn’, this has witches, demons, pixies, vampires and all sorts of good stuff. Again, we had to wait a few years for the latest instalment in the series to land this summer but it was worth it.
  3. Charles de Lint – the Newford series. As far as I am concerned, Charles de Lint is the grandaddy of urban fantasy. I first discovered him via my Dad who had bought Greenmantle and Moonheart – neither of which are part of the Newford world but which were my introduction to urban fantasy. His books set in Arizona are also excellent. The magic isn’t far under the surface with any of his books, but the urban settings are realistic.
  4. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files – set in Chicago, Harry Dresden is the only wizard listed in the Yellow Pages. Organised crime, vampires, werewolves, pizza-eating faeries and more. I’ve just started rereading from the beginning, to keep me going till September and the next instalment.
  5. Mike Carey – Felix Castor series. Set in London, Castor is an exorcist. His tech genius is a zombie holed up in a cinema in Walthamstow, and his best friend is possessed. Not for the faint hearted, especially the last in the series (I hold out hope for more…)
  6. Neil Gaiman – if not the grandaddy, at least the great uncle. Neverwhere, which tells the tale of what happened to a man who accidentally fell into London Below after helping someone out, is one I go back to time after time. American Gods is also a good example of the genre, and I’m going to throw in Good Omens – not strictly UF as it doesn’t have the noir elements, but it does lead me on to…
  7. Terry Pratchett – the Watch strand of the Discworld series. Another stretch for the UF genre, but Ankh-Morpork is so close to Victorian London, and Sam Vimes is a proper alcoholic cop saved by the love of a good woman (and her dragons), and its my blog so I can say what I want. Pratchett’s characters – certainly in the later books, after the puns and comedy of the early novels – are well-drawn. They’re still funny, but a lot darker.
  8. Kevin Hearne – the Iron Druid series. These lost the plot a bit in the later books, but the earlier ones are excellent. Set in Arizona, the druid Atticus runs into all sorts of gods, and usually manages to annoy them.
  9. Charlaine Harris – Southern Vampire Mysteries.Yes, True Blood. Set in the American South, in a world where the vampires have come out of the coffin thanks to the invention of a synthetic blood subsitute that means they don’t have to feed on humans.
  10. Honourable mentions: Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson novels, Ilona Andrews, Tanya Huff, Faith Hunter, Seanan Mcguire, Kelley Armstrong. There’s a lot of very strong female protagonists (and authors) in this genre that haven’t historically been seen in High Fantasy or SF/F. This can only be a good thing!

Morgans and more

I started the Bento Box quilt patches this week, using a production line method which meant building every patch section by section and pressing in between. And then I ran out of fabric so have to wait for some more of the blenders. They come from Empress Mills, who are an excellent family business but orders are taking a while to process at the moment for obvious reasons. Worth the wait though!

So I decided to tackle some of my to-do pile while I’m waiting, as well as the new Adele apron dress from Alice and Co Patterns.

This is the third pattern I’ve made from this company – the Jump Up Suit and and the Intrepid boiler suit being the others – and they’re so straightforward. The instructions are clear and friendly, with good tips for fitting and customising.

I used the rigid denim left over from making my Morgan jeans a few weeks ago, and chose the crossover back strap option and to knot the straps rather than adding buckles/buttons. There’s a whole set of options for both the back and the waist ties, making this a very versatile pattern, and I can see it getting a lot of wear. Big pockets, too, which are a must!

I really need to go back to work so I can wear these things.

I made a second pair of Morgans, too, this time in a velvety soft black cord that came from Pound Fabrics. These were quicker than the first pair as – because cord doesn’t twist in the same way denim does – I could cut out the pattern on the double layer. I used leftover turquoise quilting cotton for the pocket linings, and left off the rivets, and they were finished in a day. It probably took me almost as long to remove the cat hair from the fabric as it did to sew them! Cord does attract every bit of fur and fluff for miles around…

Finally, I used a double duvet cover to make a swirly skirt using my favourite Simplicity 8446 pattern. I love duvets for this, as you get a lot of fabric that quite often doesn’t need much ironing, can be tumble dried and comes in some mad prints. I have Doctor Who and Marvel comic versions, as well as a cat one. This time I used a space print fabric. As we’ve been in lockdown for months too with its inevitable home-baked side effects, I also made the decision to forgo the side zip and hacked the pattern to use the stretch waistband from MBJM’s Four Seasons jogger pattern which is much more forgiving! It’s given the skirt a bit of extra length too, so its super swishy.

I whipped up a set of pattern weights using this tutorial at the end of the week – making use of a couple of fat quarters from the stash and some dried beans as fillers. Being superlazy, I used the overlocker for everything so it was very quick. Thing 2 has appropriated one to play with already.

My next project is the By Hand London Anna Dress which I have cut out in a yellow viscose which is very slippery – I have my doubts about how simple this will be to sew!

My new adventure pants get their first outing…

Yesterday London sister and I put on our adventure pants, dug out our walking boots and set off on a road trip to Cudmore Grove Country Park in East Mersea to blow the cobwebs away. Usually sisterly days out include Italian food, eyebrow threading and the odd cocktail, so this was a bit of a break from tradition. We left my Horde at home as we wanted a good long walk, turned on an 80s station to sing along to and headed off into the wilds of Essex.

Sisters on the loose

We read a blog post earlier in the week which talked about the lack of home-nation regional foods in London – specifically the Greggs corned beef pasty which is a staple in Welsh stores but can’t be bought in London. We love corned beef pasties and I remember being able to buy them in Preston, but not down here – surprising, given the number of Welsh people who have migrated to ‘Town’ over the centuries. So, London sister whipped up a batch of pasties for a picnic (I may have mentioned her superior cooking skills in a previous post!), added some cheese rolls just in case, a Snickers bar or two and some Cardigan Bay coffee .

East Mersea (and West Mersea, of course) are on Mersea Island. Connected to mainland Essex by a causeway which disappears underwater if high tides are over five metres, it’s the most easterly inhabited island in the UK. It’s been popular as a destination since Roman times, apparently, and over the years has hosted pirates, WW2 defences, and a lot of oysters.

The country park has a large car park, the all-important toilets and a small kiosk with ice creams and coffee. We parked up, attempted to decipher the map and then decided to pick a path that went past the bird hide (closed due to subsidence). We could see a tree full of little egrets, which was quite exciting, and the path then takes you past a pillbox and on down towards the beach. We turned left first towards Brightlingsea and walked as far as we could, then hopped across some of the many little streams to rejoin the footpath. The beach is narrow but sandy, and we were amazed at the lack of windbreaks given the brisk breeze and the number of wind farms in the area. Even today we pack the windbreaks before anything else when heading off on holiday!

We then headed back into the wind towards West Mersea, following the beach as far as we could, staying well away from the crumbly clay cliff which has apparently yielded fossils and bones (hippos! in Essex!). It’s clearly unstable, and I think the whole island took a bit of a battering in the storms last year as the sea wall has been breached in several places. The wind was great for the kite surfers and we watched a couple doing amazing jumps over the waves for a while. Once we’d walked as far as we could we turned back and ate our picnic sitting on a slipway watching happy kids jumping waves.

We wandered back, found a picnic table near the adventure playground for coffee and a bit of cloudwatching, and then headed back just in time to get caught in the queue for the causeway as the tide was in. It was very exciting to drive back across the causeway with the sea still coming over the road in places!

This week’s swimming has been equally adventurous! Sue and I braved the water in ‘skins’ (without wetsuits) early in the week just to give it a try. The water was around 21 degrees at that stage, and while I loved it Sue wasn’t convinced. We also swam in high wind on Friday, where the reeds were blown flat against the water, and today I did one lap in my wetsuit and one without. The water temp was 19 degrees today and it felt great. I’m definitely keen to carry on through the winter!

19 degrees and glorious

We’ve been enjoying the produce from the garden this week – glorious tomatoes warm from the greenhouse, earthy chard, runner beans, potatoes, apples and blackberries. Thing 2 and I made apple and blackberry pie which was delicious, and she’s been baking them with honey and cinnamon.

And that’s been my week! This week will have to include the trauma of the school shoe shopping as the summer holidays are coming to an end. Compared to the end of the school year these six weeks have flown by.

See you at the end of week 23!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series (from the beginning!)

A Dying Light in Corduba (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Machine Quilting for Beginners – Carolyn S Vagts

Sarah Payne’s Quilt School

Week twenty one: Harlow – not just a geography case study

I seem to have spent large parts of the past month or so travelling through Harlow on my way to or from Redricks Lakes for swimming, including one this week as the sun rose and one in the pouring rain. I really am addicted to this open water swimming – I am not fast, and I can’t do front crawl as I don’t like putting my face underwater, but the sense of well-being I get from being in the water is enormous. You can read more about the health benefits here. I am very aware of the water around me, the wildlife I’m sharing the space with, and my surroundings in a way that you don’t feel in a pool. Today I swam two circuits of the lake – just under a mile in total – which is the equivalent of 60 lengths of my regular swimming pool. Swimming that distance indoors would bore me senseless – and because I tend to swim before work its hard to relax into the swim as I’m very conscious of what I have to do that day. There is always a clock ticking away in the pool too, which you don’t have in the lake. I have no idea how long the two circuits took me today – but it doesn’t matter!

Anyway, back to Harlow!

Harlow was one of the first wave of ‘New Towns’ created by the New Towns Act of 1946 to relocate people from bombed out areas (in Harlow’s case, mainly north east London). It sits about five miles to the north of our village and it’s where we go to the cinema, to buy school shoes and so on. It has a LOT of roundabouts. (I really mean this. A LOT.) Municipal Dreams (one of my favourite blogs) has a couple of good posts on Harlow New Town.

Welcome to Harlow (Image from BBC)

The first time I heard of Harlow was way back in secondary school in south Wales, in geography lessons as part of a case study on New Towns. To be honest, I didn’t take a lot of notice back then as Essex seemed a remote and exotic place peopled entirely by blondes in white stilettoes and Capri drivers named Kevin (this was the ’80s, and the ‘Essex Girl’ was a thing. Sorry, Essex people…). I certainly never dreamed I’d be living here – or that all three of my kids would be born in Harlow. We learned about the large quantities of concrete, the first pedestrian precinct, and the fact that the first residential tower block was built there. There’s also large areas of green space (Gibberd’s ‘Green Wedges’) and sculptures all over the place by all sorts of famous people. The town was rebranded in 2009 as ‘The World’s First Sculpture Town’. Museum Mum visited the town during lockdown and followed one of the trails – you can see her post here, and you can find the trails here.

The masterplan for the town was drawn up by Sir Frederick Gibberd, a modernist architect who spent the rest of his life living in the town. His home and its gardens were left to Harlow Council for the benefit of the town.

So this week my neighbour (and swim buddy) and I decided to drag our hordes away from Minecraft and TikTok and carted them off to Harlow to experience a bit of culture by way of a trip to the Gibberd Garden. Sadly the house is closed, due to the coronavirus restrictions, but the gardens have reopened. You pay for entry – £5 for adults, and children up to 16 years old are £1 each – and another pound for a really well produced map/trail that the children enjoyed using to identify the sculptures. There’s not a lot of information about each (spot the museum person….) but that’s what Google is for! Naturally Sue and I ended up carrying the maps in our usual role as parental packhorses, as soon as the children discovered the castle fort (complete with moat!) and giant swing.

The sculptures are scattered throughout the gardens, which are laid out over nine acres – some are items of architectural salvage, like the columns and urns from Gibberd’s reconstruction of Coutt’s Bank on the Strand – and you come upon them accidentally as they peek out of hedges and grottoes. There’s a beautiful walk alongside the Pincey Brook, which has been dammed to create deep shady pools as well as diverted to feed the moat. The children particularly loved the ‘Rapunzel Tower’.

The Gibberd Garden is currently open on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons, there’s lots of free parking and refreshments are available – including lovely local ice cream which for the children was the best bit. I had a gorgeous, tangy lemon sorbet. I don’t think we managed to see all the scupltures, so we’ll be going back when the house reopens.

We were back in Harlow the following afternoon – this time for a trip to Harlow Town Park. The park was designed by landscape architect Dame Sylvia Crowe, who was a consultant on the Harlow New Town development from 1948 -58. One of the largest urban parks in the country, it’s got pretty much everything you could ask for including a Pets Corner, skate park, adventure playground, inclusive play area, sensory gardens, a paddling pool, water gardens and ducks. This being Harlow, it also has the odd sculpture…

We parked near the Greyhound pub in the pay and display car park – there’s a war memorial there, with a beautiful yarnbomb installation of knitted and crocheted poppies and forget-me-nots. It was also where we found the ice cream van, which is always what the children are looking out for. There is a nice cafe, I’m told, but we didn’t make it over there.

The weather was a bit erratic, with thunder and the odd shower, so we didn’t cover the whole park but we did spend some time at the outdoor gym before heading to the adventure playground where Thing 2 made a beeline for the top of the spiderweb climbing frame.

We walked over to the water gardens and through to the paddling pool, which is empty but the kids managed to find a puddle to jump in. They found a hill to roll down too, and spotted a carp in the pools. The ducks seemed a bit bored!

As an aside – I do love a bit of architecture and town planning, and developed a walking session called ‘The building of Bethnal Green’ for secondary and university students for the formal learning programme. This one focused on a section of Bethnal Green where you could see evidence of every urban planning movement from the original slum clearances of the late 19th century to the late 20th, including a peek at the last bomb site which is now a nature reserve. It covers Keeling House, designed by Denys Lasdun, which used to be the view from my bedroom window on Hackney Road.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

It’s been a quilting week again! I finished the Space quilt (Lockdown Quilt 7) and I’m pretty pleased with it. The attention to detail in trimming the blocks to size paid off, and the sashing looks quite square even if some of the cornerstones are a bit out of line. I tried using a walking foot to quilt but the machine (the Singer Samba again) didn’t like it much so some of the quilting is a bit skippy. I used some bicycle clips to help hold the quilt while I quilted it, which you can see in action below. You can also see my diagram for working out how many sashing strips and cornerstones I needed, and a cat who was not inclined to move while I tried to photograph the quilt laid flat.

It’s come out at just over 5′ x 4′, and it’s backed with a double duvet cover which meant no piecing. I used the backing fabric for a folded border as it echoes the stars theme. I LOVE the glow in the dark panels, and I added a little label – I bought some printed ones to add to my makes.

The next project is a Bento Box quilt using Rainbow Etchings jelly rolls by Stuart Hillard for Craft Cotton, and some pretty cream-on-cream blenders from Empress Mills. I cut the pieces yesterday, and raided the cupboard for all the plastic boxes I could find to separate the warm and cool colours and the different sized strips. I’ve never really thought about colours in terms of warm/cool before, so I bought a cheap colour wheel which helped me sort things out.

Here’s the first block finished. I have cut and sewed all the centre pieces, so now need to add the outer pieces – I’m going to try the quilt-as-you-go method with this one. I’ve broken out the other vintage sewing machine as on that one you can drop the feed dogs, so if I’m feeling brave I may try some free motion quilting. Possibly! It’s a high shank machine, so I’ll have to buy an adapter to be able to use the snap-on quilting foot I have.

Vintage Janome sewing machine.
Block 1

Things 1 and 2 have also been creating this week! Thing 1 has been customising a denim skirt that she bought in a charity shop (and raiding my jewellery making stash to do it!). She used my mannequin so she could work on the skirt easily.

Thing 2 has been tie-dyeing everything she can get her paws on. She bought a tie dye set with a voucher from her Granny, and it’s been great fun. Co-op reusable bags have never looked so good…

Thing 3 has been creating in Minecraft. All three of them enjoy building in the game, and play quite nicely together.

I’ve heard this week that I should be back to work part time from 1 September, which I’m very much looking forward to! Still working remotely for a while, so not back in the museum yet, but how exciting!

See you at the end of week 22…

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Low Action (Vinyl Detective) – Andrew Cartmel

Peace Talks (Dresden Files) – Jim Butcher

Time to Depart (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)