122: hot enough for you?

Hot, isn’t it.

Properly, officially hot.

Hot enough for the gritters to be out sanding the roads in case they melt, for TfL to be emailing me and telling me not to get on trains, and for the denizens of the internet to be complaining not about the heat but about the latest version of the weather map. It’s far too scary, apparently.

Michael Fish, not being scary.

In the ‘olden days’ (ie when the likes of Michael Fish and Wincey Willis were slapping velcro-backed sunshine and clouds onto the map and suggesting we took a cardigan) weather was a happy thing and it was called ‘summer’. Now – with clever computer graphics which show temperatures and snow and things without the need for double-sided sticky tape, weather maps are designed to bring FEAR and TERROR and QUITE POSSIBLY parties of irritating Hobbits chucking bling into what’s being referred to as ‘the A1 corridor’.

Mordor. Sorry, the weather map for this week.

You can almost predict what’s coming next: mutterings about 1976 and how that was a heatwave, Britain did proper heatwaves back then, droughts, reservoirs drying up, plagues of ladybirds, shortage of Mivvis, that sort of thing. It’s like a badly scripted sitcom, with lines spoken by a hanky-headed, string-vest wearing pensioner in a deckchair. Well yes, it was indeed all those things, though I may have made up the Mivvi shortage – for two whole months – but crucially the maximum temperature reached was 35.9 degrees. This is a good four degrees lower than the potential highs this week which are likely to be record breaking. The first red warning for heat has been issued – they did only invent them last year, to be fair – with a risk to life for even healthy people. Significant changes to daily routines are being advised, with damage to infrastructure possible (railway tracks in London were on fire last week, for a start). Schools are considering closing.

So SHUT UP about 1976: since then we’ve developed a bloody great hole in the ozone layer, the ice shelves are melting, the sea is rising and global temperature has risen about 1.1 degree since 1880 with the majority of the warming occurring since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15 to 0.20°C per decade. Nine of the ten hottest years on record have been in the the last decade, and 1976 doesn’t even feature in the list. Get used to the scary weather maps and maybe have a think about what you, as a citizen of the planet, could do to help: every little helps, as a famous supermarket would have it.

Things making me happy this week:

  • The pool and the lake
  • Watching Thing 3’s end of year performance
  • The portable air cooler thingy in the bedroom
  • The chilled section in Tesco…
  • Thing 1’s 16th birthday – Now, 2006, that was a hot summer…Sorry.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay– Michael Chabon

Tales from the City – Armistead Maupin

116: I’ve got one nerve left, and these are the things getting on it.

Hope you’ve all survived the Jubilee weekend without too many hangovers, overexposure to bunting and wavy people on balconies etc. I’m sure her Maj is a lovely lady and so on, but the novelty of jubilees wore off for me sometime in 2012 – the golden one – and it seems overkill now to be up to four. Leave the poor woman alone – let her stop in with series 4 of Stranger Things or a few episodes of Midsomer Murders on catch-up, maybe order in an Indian and have a nice quiet weekend with the corgis. I also feel strongly that the conspicuous expenditure on entertainment, people marching about, flyovers by the Red Arrows and suchlike is nothing short of crass at a time when food banks are being asked for items that can be eaten cold as people can’t afford to cook them, when inflation is predicted to go over 10% and when people on average incomes are terrified of the next hike in fuel prices that we know is coming. But hey, she does a lot for tourism or something, which apparently justifies this sort of thing. And I did like having an extra day off, so thanks for that at least.

Something else that has annoyed me this week is the outpouring of hate for Amber Heard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of hers and other than Aquaman I couldn’t name a single film she’s been in. Some of Johnny Depp’s films – Benny and Joon, for example – will always remain on my all-time favourites list. However, this whole fiasco should never have been live-streamed, should never have become a media circus, should never have been allowed to become entertainment in the most public of ways. There’s no way the jury could have avoided all media, no matter what they were told to do by the judge, and the Depp PR machine has steamrollered across Twitter and the rest, casting Heard as a figure of ridicule and hate. Well-timed public appearances this week by Depp, extremely public support from Paul McCartney and so on: Heard never stood a chance at coming out of this anything but badly. Neither of them were perfect, and what people seem to be ignoring is that he has been cleared of the charges of defamation and ‘won’ in that respect, but was not cleared of domestic violence. People also seem to forget that both of them are actors – and he is vastly more experienced than her- and that both are more than capable of playing the parts they want the public to see. It’s their job, after all.

But the thing that most annoyed me – I know, I know, all this rage can’t be good for me – was the absolute fiasco my friend E and I experienced trying to get to the Emirates stadium on Friday night to see the Killers. She uses a wheelchair, and public transport in London is not terribly accessible in many cases – especially in the case of the older lines and stations. So, wisely, she had pre-booked parking at the stadium. Arsenal’s disability liaison person had put her on the list, she had confirmation in email form, the postcode of where she needed to get to and a street address. When she had followed up with a phone call as no parking permit had arrived, she was told that she was definitely on the list but was advised to be there early as the roads would be closed. Doors for the event were at 6.30.

Bearing this in mind, we left Debden just after 3.30, which – for a 40-50 minute drive – should have left us with enough time to park, have a catch up, get something to eat and be in our seats with plenty of time.

We arrived within sight of the stadium at 4.30, and explained to the chap manning the road barriers that we had disabled parking booked at the stadium. He told us that the access was via Drayton Park, and how to get there, so off we went. The chap manning the access at Drayton Park – to whom we explained once again that we had disabled parking booked, and that his colleague had told us to come here – gave us a set of directions involved road closures, bags over signs, turned off cameras and so on, which would definitely get us to the stadium parking. So off we went.

Half an hour later, having seen pretty much every residential street in a half mile radius (including a one-way street we should not have gone down) we had established that there was no access to the stadium thanks to bollards, strategically placed planters, brick walls and so on. We went back to the Drayton Park man, compounded the traffic offences by pulling a U-turn across a box junction, and when we told him there was no access to the stadium following his instructions, he gave us another set of similar ones, assuring us once more that it was correct.

Readers, he lied.

Half an hour later, having seen all the same streets again, asked advice from some residents and a local park warden, seriously considered abandoning the car and walking, we decided to go back to the original man and demand assistance. It was either that or kidnap Mr Drayton Park man and insist he piloted us to the stadium.

Original man, to whom I was speaking very calmly and politely and definitely not shoving an email in his face while E and several other drivers added helpful details, got on the phone to Drayton Park man, gave him the licence plate number, said we had an email and told him we were coming back round and to let us through. So we went round and he let us through. E queried (tactfully, honestly) why he couldn’t have just let us through in the first place and he gave us some utter rubbish about it being to do with ‘the capacity of the car’. Five minutes later we were in the queue to access the underground parking, and discovering that all the other people with disabled parking booked had been given the same run-around. Ninety wasted minutes, when all he had needed to do was move a bollard.

A few weeks ago I heard a talk by the wonderful Miss Jacqui who spoke eloquently about the Social Model of Disability, which expresses that the problem of accessibility does not lie with the disabled person but with the way society is run and organised, and provides a way of explaining how society goes about disabling people with impairments. It was eye-opening then, and watching it in action on Friday – with the addition of incredibly unhelpful people manning actual physical barriers – was appalling.

However, once we got into the stadium the staff could not have been more helpful and a brilliant show by the Killers and Sam Fender in support more than made up for the hassle. Brandon Flowers looked ridiculously hot in his rather 70s, disco-style suit, the sound was great and confetti cannons and fireworks are always a hit. E would have preferred to have the Manic Street Preachers in support but you can’t have everything!

Mmm. Brandon. So smiley.

Things making me happy this week:

  • gorgeous swims surrounded by wildlife this week: coots and chicks, grebes, parakeets, heron, cormorants, and actually seeing a cuckoo for the first time
  • helping a colleague at an early years stay and play event
  • same-day delivery from Asda
  • the new Phil Rickman novel, set around Whitchurch and the Doward in placed I know
  • dinner out for a friend’s birthday
  • being proud of my eldest stepdaughter for bringing her local community together
  • blocking the shawl I made

See you next week!


What I’ve been reading:

The Pure in Heart/The Risk of Darkness – Susan Hill

The Fever of the World – Phil Rickman

The Man Who Died Twice – Richard Osman

91: when love comes as a package deal

Once upon a time – November 2003 in fact, at the end of a terrible year – I met a bloke who was kind and normal and I rather liked him. We became friends, and he told me he had two daughters from a previous relationship. We carried on being friends for a bit and in February 2004 we started ‘going out’ together, as we old people would have it – well, he came round for our first date and never really went home again, and now we have three kids of our own as well as the two he started with.

When you fall in love with a bloke with kids, you’re getting a package deal with an extra baggage allowance. You live with the certain knowledge that as well as the kids you’re getting their ex in your life as well, no matter how badly that worked out. I’m not going to tell you it was easy, because for many years it was anything but: things I said and did would be twisted and turned back on me. I wasn’t a suitable person to be around the children: when A got a Facebook account set up by her friend using a fake name, I hadn’t told her mother she had one. A had messaged me and told me about it, and I’d told her dad, and that (given my prickly relationship with their mother) was the end of my responsibility. He didn’t confess to her that I’d told him – so I became the bad guy. Like I say, it wasn’t easy.

H, A and I in 2004

But I love their dad, and so I love them too: at various times one or other of them has lived with us when things have been tricky at their mum’s, or when A was on holiday from college. We practise open door parenting (as my mum and dad did): if they know they’re always welcome here when times are easy, they’ll know there’s always a welcome when they’re in trouble or in need. We patch them up, feed them up, hug them and listen because we love them. My garden has been full of teenagers (throw pizza at them and run is my advice), and that’s a joy in itself. We’ve withheld judgement on questionable boy and girlfriends. I have taken the girls to medical appointments, whether that’s mental health or midwives because sometimes everyone needs to know there’s a hand to hold or a hug waiting for you when you get out. I have frozen mini lasagnes for A when she was away from home and missed my (mediocre) cooking, I have marched H off to coffee shops so she could talk to me about why she was self-harming and how we could help her. Because step-parenting is a package deal, and loving them is an extension of loving their dad.

I am fiercely proud of them: A left uni when she got pregnant, and presented us with a gorgeous grandson who is now three. He has chronic allergies that are increasing as he gets older, so she spends a lot of time researching those and how to help him, so she can be informed when she sees consultants and health visitors and so on. He’s a bright little button. At the same time she started the Pass it On Kids UK group, which not only stops things from going to landfill but makes sure that toys, clothes and food get to people who need them. Right now she and her fellow admins are raising money for gift vouchers so families in need will have Christmas dinners and presents. H struggles with mental health issues but is determined to get past them, and I am proud of her too: for reaching out for the help she needs, and for getting up every day (notice I didn’t say morning). They are my girls, whether I hatched them myself or not. I might not have been the perfect stepmother but I have done my best.

In the news over the last few weeks there have been horrendous stories of step-parents who have not only not loved their package deals, but have tortured and brutalised them ending in their deaths. My heart breaks for those babies, who were let down by their parents and by overworked social workers with massive case loads, few resources, and not enough time to seriously investigate the accusations made by friends and family.

Not very Christmassy, but from the heart.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Canterville Ghost – Oscar Wilde

Clock Dance / Vinegar Girl – Anne Tyler

Hogfather – Terry Pratchett

61: curiouser and curiouser

This week I was lucky enough to attend a press view of the new V&A exhibition Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser, their latest offer for families. After the last family exhibition I saw at the South Kensington site (Winnie the Pooh) I wasn’t sure what to expect from Alice: Winnie was a very ‘V&A’ exhibition with a thin veneer of Instagrammable experiences but very little else in terms of engaging activity for children. I liked it as an adult but would probably not have taken my children in and expected them to be entertained for long.

I had two children with me and another adult, all from our local school in Bethnal Green: we had been asked by our comms team to find some children to write a review for an online children’s newspaper. I was interested in their reaction to the exhibition as well as wanting to see it myself!

I need not have worried: from the moment we headed through the entrance in the Sainsbury Gallery they (and I) were entranced. Both children were familiar with the books, and were fascinated by the objects and illustrations as well as the immersive nature of the experience. The use of sound to draw people closer to particular objects is really well judged throughout: trains, voices, quotes from the stories. The white rabbit wayfinding motif was beautifully done.

I was also very impressed with the low-tech nature of many of the interactives: much as kids love a screen, they also enjoy the opportunity for physical engagement. Particular favourites for them were the hall of mirrors and the tiny house to explore. There were high-tech moments, of course, and the children were fascinated by both the waterfall of Alice’s tears and the Mad Hatter’s tea party, as well as the virtual reality installation.

There’s enough in the exhibition to engage adults as well: I got hopelessly overexcited at the skeleton of the Dodo at the start of the exhibition and the lovely Tenniel illustrations, as well as by finding out more about the author and the ‘real’ Alice. Film is used throughout, both the familiar Disney version and more obscure anime and surreal interpretations.

The latter half of the exhibition shows how much impact the Alice stories have had on artists and designers: Viktor and Rolf’s fashion, for example, or Heston Blumenthal’s reimagined Tea Party. I was most amused by the inclusion of an ‘educational’ video called Curious Alice from 1971: accompanied by the brilliant White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane, it was supposed to warn children about the dangers of drugs but was quickly withdrawn as the psychedelic imagery was intriguing children with mesmerising visuals.

The high point for the children was the virtual reality installation, which they raved about to their friends back at school, and the opportunity to meet exhibition curator Kate Bailey at the end. She spoke to them about the enduring power of the story and the universal appeal of Alice, which comes across strongly in the exhibition.

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser opened on 22 May 2021. Do book in advance!

The wonders of technology

As I mentioned last week, I am actually in North Wales this weekend so have rather cleverly set this post to publish automatically (I hope) thanks to the wonders of modern technology. As it appears on its usual channels I will hopefully be out on a walk somewhere in Snowdonia!

I have managed to finish the Vappu socks, and have also handed over the latest in the year of handmade gifts to its recipient. I hope he likes it! The pattern can be found here. The lovely bags were painted by Thing 2, who wanted a tote to put her school clothes in on PE days.

Next up is finishing the Hobbit Hole, a crochet cow which is currently legless and another gift or 3.

That’s it from me – I had better go and pack as sadly that can’t be set to automatic….

See you for week 62, or ‘what I did on my holidays’.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Lollipop Shoes/Peaches for Monsieur le Cure – Joanne Harris (Audible)

Pel Under Pressure – Mark Hebden

Attention all Shipping – Charlie Connelly

Week fifteen: sourdough and split ends

I am not a natural chef. There are things I do well: banana bread, for example, a foolproof chocolate cake, and according to the Horde I make a very passable chilli. There are things I do very badly: scones and pastry, and Anzac biscuits. I quite literally cannot produce a consistent boiled egg, let alone an edible one. It’s not that long ago that Thing 3 responded to the smoke alarm by running off to his daddy shouting, ‘Dinner’s ready’. When my beloved installed an extractor over the cooker I tried telling the children that dinner couldn’t be burned, as the alarm hadn’t gone off: Thing 2 looked at me, looked at her admittedly charcoal-toned dinner and said, ‘You cheated, mummy, you turned the thing on.’ Thing 1, memorably, peered at the grill pan once while I was making fish fingers and said, ‘Haven’t you burned them yet, mummy?’ This, at the age of about four.

I used to envy those classmates who did Home Economics at school. Note for young people: this is now called Food Technology, and comes under the DT syllabus. Back in the olden days it was a whole separate subject.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes… my classmates that did Home Ec. They got to go off down to the art block at lunchtime to do arcane things like ‘feeding their Christmas cake’. I, on the other hand, got one out of ten for fruit salad (really, don’t ask). When I took my bread and butter pudding home – quite proudly, I will admit, as it wasn’t burned – and handed it to my mother she said, ‘how lovely, let’s put it in the freezer and we’ll have it another day,’ and it was never seen again. Luckily for my parents, we only did a half term of Home Ec every year.

My London sister, on the other hand, is a talented and brilliant person in the kitchen and whips up clever things. When lockdown began, she had recently been made redundant and she decided to try making a sourdough starter. Christened George, we had daily updates on his progress and she began to turn out beautiful loaves of bread. A whole new vocabulary comes with sourdough: words like levain, and discard, and bannetton (a proving basket, I think).

For my birthday. she arrived bearing a pack of N’duja* (the good stuff, I am told) and a jar containing a little bit of George. I have christened it Kevin. An email followed with instructions on what to do with Kevin to make him earn his keep, and photos illustrating the joy of sourdough.

Now, despite the fact that she’s my little sister and tormented me for many years by doing things like telling new boyfriends that I lived next door when they came to pick me up, singing selections from Annie through the letterbox at me, or locking herself in the bathroom with the notes from a lovelorn swain (that I had torn up) and reading them out very loudly, I do trust her when it comes to cooking.

So, on Monday I broke Kevin out of the little pot and began my first sourdough loaf. Kevin Junior (the levain) didn’t bubble properly or grow to twice his size, just produced a few halfhearted holes and he didn’t grow much on the first rise. The second rise was more successful, and apart from the fact that I didn’t brave the slash before baking and the ‘dark’ crust was more charcoal than expected, the loaf tasted delicious. I made bread!

The next day she remembered to tell me that I should be using hand-hot water to make the levain and to feed Kevin, so last night (I’m writing this bit on Thursday as I was inspired!) I started my second loaf. Warm water is definitely the way to go – Kevin Junior doubled in size, and the overnight rise was very successful. I was out walking at 6am this morning and started the second rise when I got back – he’s currently shaped and supported by tea towels in the conservatory. I’m hoping not to burn this one…..

Kevin Senior is in a Kilner jar (minus the seal) in the fridge – I am now a slave to the sourdough. Kevin’s bitch. Oh dear. (*the N’duja remains unopened. One thing at a time, people.)

Update: yesterday I made sourdough pancakes from the discard (thumbs up from the Horde), and discovered that ham and Emmental sourdough toasties are the food of the gods. Next mission: pizza.

My other experiment this week was home made peshwari naan bread, British Indian Restaurant style – and it was AMAZING. The kids prefer peshwari to plain naan, and they don’t sell it in the little Co-op in the village. I used this recipe from The Curry Guy and though it took longer than I expected it was SO worth it. They tasted just like the ones from our local restaurant, and I could leave one plain for Thing 3 who doesn’t like sultanas. We’ll be making those again!

That was the week…

…that I also got completely fed up with my split ends. My hair is (or was) longer than it has been in about ten years. It’s the best part of six months since my last haircut, and my poor tresses have been treated to several home dye kits since then. I decided to take a leaf out of the kids’ book and watch a YouTube video on how to cut your own hair. My hair is pretty straightforward apart from being a bit unruly/wavy/curly: I have a heavy fringe as I’d still like to be Chrissie Hynde when I grow up (minus the veganism), and layers as that helps the curl behave. I watched this one by Liz Liz and this one by Marianellyy Diaz – much the same content, but the first one shows you how to layer round the face and the second how to take out the V-shape at the back. I think it was quite successful – I cut my fringe in carefully using the same technique. The colour is a very faded Schwarzkopf Live colour in Amethyst Chrome – supposed to be permanent but I find they fade quite quickly on my hair.

Layers! Post-straightening.

I got more practice in on the technique afterwards, as Thing 2 decided to cut her own fringe (luckily quite long, but a bit too wide) and I had to do a repair job to turn it into a layered cut for her as well. Thing 1 got an undercut, courtesy of her dad and his clippers, under her short bob (by me the other week). She now wants to have her whole head cropped, and to go to fashion school – she is equally excited by both things, and I have promised that this week I’ll start teaching her to sew (I knew she should have chosen Textiles at GCSE). She has been researching courses and summer schools already!

On the subject of sewing, I finished the green and yellow quilt that I laid out last week, as both the backing fabric and the binding arrived. I prewashed the backing fabric and I am very glad I did, as it lost lots of the lemon yellow dye. Putting it in with a light wash was a bad idea but – honestly – who doesn’t need lemon yellow pyjamas and running socks?

I had an idea that rather than quilting in the ditch between the squares, I’d use a button on every corner as I had some pretty wooden ones in the button tin, but when I tried it the effect wasn’t quite what I was hoping for so I snipped them off and went back to the machine (the Singer I wrote about last week). I was looking for a puffy effect, but because I was using 2oz wadding rather than the 4oz I used last time it didn’t work. I may try again with more wadding at some point! Fortunately I made the choice to change back after only eight buttons went on.


I have learned from the last two quilts, where the fabric bunched up during the quilting stage, to stitch my lines outwards from the middle and to make sure the fabric is flat as I sew. This time round I stitched outwards from the centre point to form a cross dividing the quilt into quarters, then worked through each quarter from the centre towards the edges. I did the horizontal lines first and then the vertical, and the bunching is much less in evidence. I also increased my stitch length slightly to accommodate the wadding, and that seems to have resolved the tension issue I experienced with the red quilt. The binding isn’t quite straight, but I think the sage green works well with the yellows and greens and picks up some of the florals nicely.

The next one will be blue – I have picked up a couple of charm packs from Amazon and some Kona solids in different blues from Ebay, and the plan is to make a larger one that might actually cover a bed! My bed, for preference…

No cross stitch update this week as I have been mainly crocheting. Late last year I was asked by a D&D playing friend to create a set of ‘voodoo’-style dolls of their RPG group – they were on a story arc in New Orleans, and he wanted some props. One of the group contacted me last week to ask if I could make dolls of him and his girlfriend, so they have been on the hook this week. I have been using the Weebee doll pattern by Laura Tegg on Ravelry (my user name is LadybirdK over there) as it’s super-simple, there’s some really cute outfits that can be adapted easily and – this is important! – there’s permission to sell the finished dolls. Here’s the first of the pair, awaiting hair and clothes. He liked the button eye aesthetic that the game dolls had, so we have stuck with that, and has requested that I make the doll look ‘witchy’. I love these commissions, they are such fun to make!

Doll 1

The rather dramatic header image this week was taken on my regular Sunday walk – this week we followed one of the Millennium walks through the flood meadow nature reserve to the local church and then back through the fields. The local farmers have planted a lot of borage this year, and the fields are the most heavenly blue colour that my phone camera completely fails to do justice to. A bit of Googling told us that borage is also known as starflower, is a source of Omega-6 fatty acid and is good in salads. It’s safe from pigeons and slugs, too.

The boxes in the second image are bee hives, and the field next to the flood meadow is covered in them – local honey must be on the way! There was a lot of industrious buzzing, I know that much.

So that was week 15! The pubs reopened yesterday (I didn’t go, but the noise last night suggests that some people made the most of it!). I made my monthly trip to Tesco on Tuesday and still can’t get any soy sauce but home baking goods are back on the shelves which made me happy.

See you on the other side of week 16!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

V I Warshawski novels (I’m up to #12 now – only 8 more to go!) – Sara Paretsky

The Iron Hand of Mars/Poseidon’s Gold (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week fourteen: new jeans and sewing machines

A thank you, first of all – to those of you both here on WordPress and elsewhere on social media (and even in real life!) who took the time to read last week’s piece, to share it more widely and to talk to me about it. It meant a lot to me to be able to open the conversation. Thank you!

This has been a learning week – my challenge was to make a pair of jeans for myself. I bought the Closet Case Patterns ‘Ginger’ skinny jeans some time ago and it’s been lurking in my files for aaaaages. I picked up some black stretch denim on EBay – quite lightweight, without too much stretch (2% lycra), and very reasonably priced considering the potential for disaster in the project. There’s a lot of techniques in a pair of jeans I haven’t tried before – not least the fly – so I knew this was going to be a steep curve!

Who knew, for example, how many different pieces there are in a pair of jeans? I know I didn’t have a clue until I cut them out on Monday…

I decided to make view B, which is the high waisted, skinny leg option – I have never bought high waisted jeans, but I also rarely wore bold print clothes until I started making them myself, so I figure I’ll wear these jeans! Before I cut the fabric I used the shortening guide on the leg piece to take out 10cm, which is the usual amount I have to take off all trousers. If I make them again I’ll reduce that to 8 or 9cm for a wider hem at the bottom, as they were only just long enough in the end, resting just below my ankle after hemming.

The pockets went together quite well, except the coin pocket ended up on the left instead of the right (since it’s a pocket I never use, I can’t see a problem with this and would have been just as happy to have left it out), and one of the pocket stays is inside out. I need to put a couple of tacking stitches into the pocket to hold the facings inside as they have a habit of popping out above the pockets themselves. I used remnants of the deep red backing fabric from my red quilt to make facings and pockets, so my favourite colour is on the inside.

The fly was another matter, and I’m really not sure where I went wrong. I followed the instructions as best I could – they really aren’t that clear, and while I frequently say ‘trust the pattern!’ I think next time I’ll be looking out for a sewalong or tutorial to help. My zip is exposed, and the fly shield doesn’t sit over it – but my top stitching is very neat for a change, which I suppose is something as top stitching is one of my bugbears (hence using navy for the jeans!).

The back of the jeans went together well – the yoke gives the waistline a nice shape, and the slight curve on the back pockets is flattering. The pattern gives some helpful suggestions for pocket placements, as – as they point out – every bottom is different. I’ve never been very fond of mine (too flat) so anything that gives the illusion of a curve is a plus!

The designers very sensibly suggest tacking the front and back together to check the fit through the leg before you stitch them permanently together, and I’m glad I did as I had to take in the legs by a couple of centimetres. I was still left with some extra width in the the thigh, so I’ll try and work out how to take that out next time (possibly by grading between the leg and waist sizes on the pattern).

Overall I’m happy with them, and will be making them again – and I’ve also treated myself to the Morgan boyfriend jeans pattern.

The top I’m wearing in the picture above is also a me-made – this time a rub-off from one of my favourite vests. I like the slight shaping on it, and the length. The stripy fabric is another EBay bargain – it was sold as 100% cotton, but I have my doubts. It’s not very stretchy and the stripes are printed rather than woven, but as a test piece it’s worked quite well. If you look closely you can see a seam down the centre front where I didn’t have enough length (I had a metre of fabric) to cut both front and back on the fold. It’s a very stable knit, so putting a seam down the front didn’t take it out of shape.

Here you can see the vest in progress – the rub off, the marked up pattern and my kit (Burda tracing paper, Frixion pens, a couple of Celtic paddlestones from the garden centre for weights, pins, a long steel ruler and paper scissors!) – and the final vest next to the original. Please note the Bee-worthy stripe matching on the vest which I managed on both sides and down the middle.

Thoughts on sewing machines…

Both the jeans and the vest were constructed using my Brother 2104D overlocker for seam finishing, and on a Singer Samba 2 (6211 model) which – looking at the instruction booklet – dates from 1984. My Aunty Jo, who had it from new and who passed it on to me a couple of years ago, has made notes in the back of the booklet detailing what she made and the savings on shop-bought clothes. These are dated around 1986, and I can see she made Liberty print blouses, cushion covers, and did alterations for her son and herself. She was also a painter, and has been in my mind a lot recently as she is in hospital after a fall. I wonder whether this was behind my decision to use the Samba to sew this week?

Aunty Jo’s Samba 2

Sewing machines, it turns out, are like cats and tattoos – it’s almost impossible to stop at one. I am currently at 5, including my overlocker!

My first sewing machine was also a Singer, which I never got to grips with and which eventually expired past resurrection back when I still lived in London. My mum was given it for her 21st birthday in 1965 and she passed it to me as she thought her days of sewing were past and my crafty journey had just begun with my discovery of cross stitch. She was wrong, of course – my youngest sister is an historical interpreter working in schools, museums and heritage sites in Northern Ireland and the top of ROI, and mum has been sewing costumes for her (which reminds me, I have to make a suffragette sash for her!) as well as making curtains for their home in France.

My second sewing machine came much later, when my eldest daughter was very small – this time, it was given to me by my mother in law, as she no longer used it. Again, it was from the 1960s, as we found the original receipt in the case. It’s a Husqvarna Viking 19E, and it had been regularly serviced and much used. I learned to sew on this beauty, and when the drive belt perished a few years ago and couldn’t be replaced as the parts are no longer made I was very sad. I still have it, and have a search alert set up on EBay in the hope that a belt will come up second hand. I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. My mother in law died in late 2012, and this is one of the links I have to her – I was very lucky, as she and I got on well. She was a crocheter, and tried (and failed) to teach me which was one reason I was so determined to learn later.

When the Viking died I was in the middle of a project, so I bought a Brother LS14 – a basic model but it does the things I need it to do, and it’s been used recently to teach Thing 2 to sew. It’s a bit rattly, as it’s quite lightweight, but its reliable and great for a beginner. I started to sew more regularly, and to share what I was making on social media, and suddenly people saw me as somewhere to pass their old machines on to (I have learned to say no now, and to suggest alternative people who might be able to provide a loving home – but if I had the space I would rehome them ALL!). As well as the Singer Samba above, I also have a New Home machine – this one dates from the late 70s, I think, and belonged to a friend’s mum who no longer used it. It’s a good, solid machine and I think I’ll have to get it out soon.

Vintage machines are reliable, but they do need a bit of TLC at times – a bit of oiling, and a bit of a dust – and we are also lucky in this area to have the fabulous Rona sewing machine shop in Waltham Cross. They are helpful, knowledgeable and expert with all sorts of machines – highly recommended if yours needs a bit of a tune-up or if you’re looking for a new one.

My overlocker was a treat to myself – bought in a sale, and it’s been worth every penny.

In case you’re wondering, I have also learned to say no to more cats – three is enough! For the moment….

Level up!

I turned 47 on Friday. I haven’t worried about age since my 27th birthday, when I cried all day.

Why 27? Wayyyyy back in infant school, our teacher Mrs Price asked us for a mental maths exercise to work out how old we’d be in the year 2000. To six year old me, that seemed like a million years away and 27 sounded so OLD. That feeling stuck with me and when I finally hit 27 in the millennium year I had a bit of a meltdown…and no birthday since has ever had the same effect. Perhaps that was my equivalent of a midlife crisis (I hope not).

This year was a bit out of the ordinary, of course, as we’re still socially distancing. I have a large garden, and despite the forecast thunderstorms, my best friend and my London sister came to visit me armed with gin, cake and a sourdough starter which apparently I have to name. Suggestions welcome! It was a lovely gossipy day, sitting in the shade as the promised rain threatened but never appeared, and I felt very spoiled.

One thing about being a maker and a sharer of makes is that it’s rare that anyone gives me a handmade gift, so I was incredibly touched to receive a beautiful hand embroidered card from my colleagues at the museum, with personal messages and art inside. I miss them all very much and am looking forward to going back to work at some point…

Anyway, here is a happy Moominmamma (it was a Moomin themed birthday, as the crew all know my passion for these little hippo-esque trolls) embroidered by Katy:


Another colleague, Alan, used a photo of our Teddy-cat that I’d sent him captioned ‘draw me like one of your French girls’ – and did exactly that. I love it!

Teddy is currently stretched out on the chair in a very similar pose….

I’ll leave you with this week’s cross stitch update! I have always loved this painting – I had a book about it as a child called ‘Take a Good Look with Johnny Morris’ that delved into the people on the Island, and I’ve had a print of it on my bedroom wall for the last 29 years – I bought it at a poster sale in the Student Union in Freshers’ Week and it’s been with me ever since!

Lots of dark blues in this panel!

I’ll see you on the other side of week fifteen – have a great week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

V I Warshawski novels – Sara Paretsky

The Iron Hand of Mars – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week five: school, sewing and sunshine

I’ve often described my working life as like a rollercoaster we get on every Monday and get flung off every Friday, exhilarated but exhausted – like Diego the sabre-tooth tiger in Ice Age after he comes down the ice slide. I’m upgrading that to the waltzers, I think – you think you’re moving fast and then someone comes and spins you in the opposite direction entirely. All you can do is hang on… that’s what Monday was like! A morning of catching up with a week’s worth of emails, followed by a frantic team meeting and then three hours of preparing to lock down for the next couple of months. Furlough means we are forbidden to do any work for the museum at all, so we had to make the most of Monday!

All this while trying to convince the Horde that it really was the start of term and it was time to get back to routine. (They all got dressed, so I counted the day as a win….) Anyway, I – along with most of the museum – am now furloughed for the next couple of months unless the situation changes rapidly (anything is possible these days) and the relief this news brought was huge. I have written before about the stress of trying to be’work me’ and ‘mum me’ at the same time, when it feels as if I am failing at both, so this means I can try and get one right at least.

Time to slow down and enjoy time at home – bluebells on a local lane

So, it’s back to SPAG and fractions (I’m sure there was more to maths than fractions!), story writing using some strange acronyms (DADWAVERS, anyone?) and Hitler’s Germany which is Thing 1’s history topic. We’ll stick to the format we were using before Easter, as that gives us time for creativity in the afternoon.

Doesn’t furlough mean more making time, too?

It does! It’s been a productive week, too, with a bit of upcycling, a bit of fixing, a bit of making and a bit of crochet.

In the mornings while I have been working with the children, I have been repairing the hexies in a lovely crochet blanket – I made it, and used the magic ring to start all the hexies but all of them have started to come undone. I used this very helpful tutorial to fix them, and will go back to the chain method to start these things in future.

Thing 1 requested a wrap skirt, as she had seen one on Instagram – rather than buy one, I knew I had a few wrap patterns. She chose New Look 6456 in style D, and I had some lovely polycotton with daisies and dots on. It was pretty straightforward to make up, and now I have a happy daughter.

Thing 2 – who usually flatly refuses to wear hand-me-downs – will NOT give up on a stripy dress which my sister bought for Thing 1 when she was about 5. She’s been wearing it as a top with shorts for the last couple of years, but it’s finally got too small. So, she asked me to make her a crop top and mini skirt out of it to get another year’s wear – we cut round the waist seam, added elastic waistbands and she’s happy again! She’s now requested pyjama shorts, which she’s going to help me make, and ‘Shaggy pants’. Apparently she means wide trousers like Shaggy in Scooby Doo – so it was back to the pattern stash where she found another New Look pattern and a quick browse on Pound Fabrics where we found some pretty cotton.

The pyjama shorts request sprang from watching me whip up a pair from the remnants of the wrap skirt fabric. I used a pattern by The Makery, which was a freebie with Simply Sewing magazine a few years ago. I used elastic rather than the drawstring, for ease, and they are perfect with a vest for this hot spell. While searching the stash I rediscovered the Lapwing Trousers pattern by Simple Sew and once madam had rejected the ditsy blue flower fabric I offered her, I decided I’d make another pair for myself. There’s nothing like a pair of floaty cotton trousers for hot days. (Other things I have rediscovered this week: my hammock, Bloom Strawberry Gin and Fevertree Elderflower Tonic, and stargazing in search of satellites and meteors).

The table tennis table is still up in the garden and it’s so useful for laying out large patterns and quilt tops, even when Thing 3 decides to open a market stall at the other end.

I sandwiched the red quilt top (the wadding was a bit of a patchwork too) and quilted it together, and its now awaiting binding. I’ve decided to use ready made bias binding on this one, and am waiting for it to arrive. The second image is the big make of the week – I volunteered to be a pattern tester for Alice and Co Patterns, who are extending their size range for the Intrepid Boiler Suit. I ran across Alice and Co when they did an updated versions of the Mary Quant Georgie and classic minidress to accompany the Quant exhibition at the V&A.

I love an all in one, and had just bought their Jump Up Suit pattern – I would probably not have tried the boiler suit if they hadn’t asked for testers. I’ve looked at boiler suits but never had the courage to buy one – this seemed like the perfect solution! I’d also just bought several metres of gorgeous lightweight pinstripe denim (Pound Fabrics again) and now I had an excuse to use it. Luckily they let me join the tester team…

The PDF pattern was really straightforward to put together (if I ever win the lottery, the first thing I am buying is an A0 printer and a garden studio to put it in), and the instructions were really clear and easy to follow – even the enclosed yoke, which I have only tried once before. It really was a case of trusting the pattern, and the resulting yoke looked great.

I’m a great one for taking sewing shortcuts, especially with zips and sleeves – I hate setting in sleeves – but as I was testing the pattern I thought I’d better do it properly! The process became quite mindful, as I had to think about what I was doing more carefully and pay attention to the finishing. The only step I skipped was finishing the raw edges before sewing, as I decided to overlock them as I went along. I even overlocked the zip tape to the seam allowance.

The back and breast pockets were cut against the grain so I could have the pinstripes at a contrasting angle, and the side pockets were perfectly (if accidentally) pattern matched. I decided to make a self-fabric tie belt to go through the waistband casing, rather than use a proper belt, and used fabric scraps to patch one together as I knew no one would see the seams!

The making process took me about six hours, plus time to stick together the PDF and cut out the fabric, and it was thoroughly enjoyable – and I LOVE the result. I made my beloved take a proper photo of me wearing it with my Lottas just so I could share it… it also shows off my new ultra-violet hair, or so it says on the box. I may make the legs a bit shorter, as here you can see I have had to fold them up four times, but I love the 80s girl group vibe. There’s also a free pattern hack on the website for a button front version, and I quite fancy a sleeveless one too, so will definitely be making this again.

You can’t have spent all week sewing, surely?

I mentioned earlier that Thing 3 had decided to open a stall on the table tennis table – there’s a touch of the Del Boy about this one! He sold bric-a-brac, and not to be outdone Thing 2 decided she also needed a stall. I had bought them some new acrylic paints, so her USP was painting rocks on request. I had some tiny pebbles that we’d sprayed white with primer, and she painted me a set of ladybirds for my shelves of frivolity in the shed. She also painted me – secretly – a puffin rock, as they are my favourite birds. Thing 3 helped his dad improve the water feature – here you can see him taking a well earned break!

Having been inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee, I painted some rocks to use as pattern weights – very useful when cutting outside! I usually use chunks of slate from the garden centre, but these pebbles have been hanging around for a while and now they’ll see more use.

Pattern weights drying in the sun

I have even managed some gardening! Hard pruning some hydrangeas transplanted from the neighbours last year, which are showing signs of life, and weeding out the wild garlic from the beds by my shed. I was really pleased to see the campanula survived the winter, and also the bleeding heart we bought at the sad plant section last year and which I snapped the stems off when planting out – it’s got flowers on and I hope it will self-seed. My hollyhocks are shooting up again, and my chinese lanterns.

Not such a sad plant!

The hammock has seen some use, too – crocheting and listening to birds in the afternoons. The BirdNET app has been so useful – I now know what the goldcrests sound like, and the chiffchaffs. The red kites seem to have stuck around, and I see them wheeling over the houses quite often. Other garden visitors have included the fox, the badger and a tiny mouse.

Let’s see what week six brings us! Have a great week.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Plan for the Worst (Chronicles of St Mary’s) – Jodi Taylor

The Language of Spells and The Secrets of Ghosts – Sarah Painter

Soundtrack for the week:

John Mellencamp, Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Prine

Week 3: not a fronted adverbial in sight!

The Horde have been on school holiday this week, and their Dad has been furloughed so this week has been a lot more relaxed – at least for them! I have still been working, but have been (mostly) able to do just one thing at once. I’m still focusing on the potential for makerspaces and project based learning, reading and thinking about what’s manageable and possible to test over the next couple of years.

There’s been a lot of meetings via MS Teams, and I am finding them more tiring than being in a room with all the same people. I mentioned this over on Twitter the other day, and some wise people shared their thoughts with me about the extra cognitive work your brain is having to do to remember you both are and aren’t in the same room as people. My sister shared this link with me, which was interesting. Both this one and another that our museum director shared liken what we are experiencing to trauma, and the stress of being in a situation out of our control. I think we are all also very aware that we don’t know how long this lockdown will go on for, and that there is so much uncertainty about what the ‘new normal’ might look like.

One Teams meeting was delightful, though – an end of week chat with two lovely colleagues over a virtual drink – there should be more of this, and it was good to have a conversation with other adults that didn’t come with an agenda…

Walk this way….

One of the ways I am managing my own mental health is to keep walking – on Tuesday I was so tired when I woke up that I didn’t start the day with a 6am ramble, and the impact on my mood was surprising.

Despite not being able to set my usual pace due to last weekend’s running injury, just that 45 minute walk has a calming effect across the whole day. It helps, of course, that we are in the countryside but even when working I try and get off the train a stop early and walk along the canal towpath to Victoria Park.

Slowing down to hobbling pace has also forced me to look around a bit more as I go! It was suggested the other day that this seems to be a bumper year for blackthorn (so we’ll be making sloe gin later!) and it’s true that the Common is white with blossom.

Thing 2 – an early riser like her mama – has joined me the last three days, and it’s been a time for her to ask big questions about the things that worry her, and for us to have some peaceful time together. She loves to spot animals, and was thrilled today to see a tiny mouse as we came back through the forest.

Holiday activities

The weather has continued to be most un-bank-holiday-ish, treating us to days of baking sunshine instead of the torrential downpours we usually associate with school holidays. My beloved has been working in the garden, planting all sorts of vegetables and pulling weeds out of the ground, and Thing 2 has been joining in. She has shown a lot of interest in germinating fruit seeds – actually googling how to do it properly rather than shoving them in some earth and hoping for the best which is my usual method. We have a set of little orange trees that are now about 6 inches high, and a few apples and a plum underway. Thing 3 helped make a rack to put seedlings in, having a go at sawing wood and helping screw things together. All the wood in the garage that my beloved kept in case it came in useful has – yes! – come in useful.

Expecting oranges in about 5 years…

What’s Thing 1 been up to? She’s mostly been asleep, but she did let me cut her hair earlier this week – the thinking was that if I did a really bad job then lockdown means it has time to grow out. I can’t remember the last time she let me cut her fringe.

Once again there has been a lot of baking – the delight when I landed the last bag of flour in the Co-op was quite ridiculous. The highlight has been hot cross buns, of course, but we have also made rocky road cake, more flatbread and pancakes for breakfast.

My to-do list hasn’t seen much action, sadly, but I have cut out four sets of scrubs which will be going to a mental health trust in East London, and made up one of those sets.

Saturday was spent making ‘ear savers’ – the elasticated masks that medical staff wear hurt their ears as they are wearing them more often, so I whipped up some of these little gadgets and sent two dozen off to a friend who works in the maternity unit in our local hospital, for her to use and pass to her colleagues. They are super simple to make, and a good way to use up scraps. I won’t deny that an afternoon in the sunshine sewing buttons on was lovely, too…

Ear savers!

I put a plea out on Facebook for anyone who had buttons to spare to share them with me so I could make more of these, and the response from both friends and people across the village was amazing. So many buttons – people were going through their button boxes and popping them through my letterbox all day!

I have booked this week off, and am looking forward to spending some relaxing time with my family, pottering about and making things. Hopefully you all have something nice planned for the bank holiday at home!

See you at the end of week (signing off just as another package of buttons have arrived….)

Kirsty x

In which things begin a little sooner than expected…

When I first decided a blog might be the way to chart the next couple of years, the plan was to get started when the museum I work in closed for an exciting reinvention and I was resident in one of my favourite local primary schools. However, it’s March 2020 and for me – as for so many other people right now – nothing is going quite as planned! Like most non-key workers I am working at home.

Lulu: sulking as I have stolen the computer chair

Who’s in the house?

Today, the crew consists of me, the 13 year old whose school closed earlier this week and three cats in varying stages of outrage at having their daily routines disrupted. We have discovered that the 13 year old doesn’t like seventies rock, which is my work soundtrack of choice, and that she apparently works better when in constant video chat mode with her friends.

From Monday, of course, there will also be the younger two children (11 and 9) as their school closes today. My partner is still working – as a supervisor for a cleaning company he’s still out and about.

Bailey: the reason I have a decoy notebook

So, let’s see what happens over the next few months… expect ramblings, thinking about museum learning and how that translates into a school residency, pictures of cats, things I’m doing to keep myself sane without my wonderful colleagues around me. Whatever I do next!

Teddy: fed up of being photographed