Week forty four: I think I need a hobby

Last week my walking buddy Jill said ‘I think I need a hobby!’ I am probably the last person you should ever say that to, as you know, but I limited myself to just the one suggestion and that was to take up cross stitch. It’s pretty straightforward: if you can count and thread a needle (and there’s gadgets to help with that) you have the basic skills to take up cross stitch. OK, OK, I know cross stitch for me was a gateway craft which has led to all sorts of other things – up to and including a shed – but I’m assured by some other people that it is possible to have just the one hobby. No, really, it is. Stop laughing!

As I have mentioned before, my adventures in cross stitching started when I couldn’t find a Valentine card for a boyfriend back when I was 21, and it all got a bit out of hand after that. I spotted a design in a magazine and decided it couldn’t really be that hard, so I took myself off to B’s Hive in Monmouth (a much missed town feature as I discovered earlier this week when I posted an image on Facebook of a paper bag from the shop). I bought fabric, needles and floss with the help of one of their very knowledgeable staff, and became hooked pretty quickly. Those were the days before internet shopping – 1995, in fact – and these bricks and mortar shops were treasure troves of yarn, fabrics, beads and buttons. B’s Hive even had a tiny one-table cafe. The boyfriend didn’t last, but the hobby did.

A B’s Hive bag which held some navy 14-count aida. From the days before 01 and 6 figure phone numbers in Monmouth!

And now I have been stitching for 26 years, and have my own trove (well, shed) of fabrics, floss, beads, buttons, hoops, frames and all the other things a crafter accumulates over the years. You don’t really need all the bells and whistles, of course, but things mount up.

So here, for anyone who might be thinking of taking up cross stitching, is all you really need* to be getting on with it:

  1. Something to stitch. This could be a kit, of which there are millions out there to choose from, or it could be a pattern. I’d suggest a kit to start with, as they come with the fabric and floss that you need, a needle, and sometimes a hoop that you can use as a display frame when you have finished using it to hold your WIP (work in progress). Black Sheep Wools or LoveCrafts are good sources of quality kits for beginners with good instructions. There are a lot of cheap kits on Amazon, of course, but many are from Chinese sellers and the instructions may not be as helpful as you’d like. You could also choose a chart to start from – either a paper chart from a shop or website, or from a magazine or book, or if you’re a nerd like me you’ll find designs from every fandom and for every level of ability on Etsy. If you choose to start with a chart, you’ll need to buy all the other bits to go with it, like….
  2. Fabric. ‘Proper’ cross stitch fabric is a woven grid with holes in so you know where to put your needle to make each cross. I usually use aida, which comes in a range of colours and sizes. The ‘count’ of the fabric refers to the number of holes per inch – I like to work on 18 count aida but for a beginner I’d recommend a 14 count. This is the same fabric that many people encountered in school, with much larger holes – usually a 6 count binca for young children. You’ll also see evenweave, linen, jobelan and more – but the key thing is that they all have an even grid of holes. Aida fabrics are quite starchy, which helps keep your stitches nice and even. With the higher count fabric – 28 or 32, for example, you’ll usually work over two threads otherwise your design will be tiny.
  3. Something to hold your work. Some people like hoops for all their projects, others prefer to work ‘in hand’. For small projects like cross stitched cards I like to use a hoop (they come in a range of sizes) that’s a bit bigger than the design I’m working on, as I find that moving the hoop around can crush the stitches. For larger projects I use the Elbesee easy clip frames which also come in a range of sizes. You don’t need them, but you can buy a seat stand or a floor stand to hold these, which keeps your hands free for stitching. There are lots of tutorials on YouTube on how to mount fabric in hoops and frames.
  4. Needles. I use size 24 or size 26 which you can buy in packs from any needlework supplier, and these are usually the ones that come in kits. Gold plated needles are nice, but I find the plating comes off easily and then they catch the fabric. There are easy threading needles, ball point needles – all sorts of needles, but all you really need is the basic one.
  5. Floss: Six stranded cotton, embroidery silks, threads. These are the colourful skeins of thread you see on carousels in the stitching shops – you may even have bought them to make friendship bracelets back in the day. The two main brands in the UK are Anchor and (my preferred brand) DMC although some places stock some beautiful hand dyed threads, and you can often pick up packs of unbranded floss in places like Poundland. Beware of the quality of these though – some of the cheap ones get knotty and fray easily and are really frustrating to work with. There are specialist threads too – metallics and rayons, but wait till you’ve conquered the basics as these can put a beginner off for life. Trust me on this! You cut your length of thread from the skein and peel off the number of strands you need for your design – two or three strands for 14 count, for example.
  6. Sharp small scissors. Nail scissors will do, or embroidery scissors. Small scissors give you more control over how close to the fabric you cut your threads. Hide them from your family in case they use them to trim bacon or something. Bacon does not add to the finished design.
  7. Something to store your threads in. You can buy special plastic or card bobbins, or stitchbows, but I use basic envelopes – the kind you buy in packs from all paper shops etc. I write the number of the floss on the top right hand corner, and when I am working on a project with lots of colours I draw the chart symbol on it too so I don’t have to keep referring to the key. When I am done with the project the envelopes get filed in numerical order in plastic storage boxes (again, nothing special – I think these were from The Range) and then I can easily see what numbers I have.
  8. A cotton bag – this is where all those free tote bags from conferences come in useful. Keeping your project in one of these, or a pillowcase for larger projects, keeps it clean. Unless you have a cat, in which case tweezers will be your friend for removing the stray hairs you have just stitched in. I say embrace the cat hairs or you’ll drive yourself mad.
  9. A highlighter pen for marking off the stitches you have already done on your chart. This is very useful, especially if you are doing blocks of a colour and you have to put your work down a lot. I’d also advise photocopying and enlarging your chart to make it easier to see – you can’t photocopy a chart to give someone else due to copyright, but you can make a copy for personal use. If you have an Android tablet there’s a new app called Pattern Keeper which is brilliant for keeping track of where you are on the chart, and allows you to highlight the colour you’re working on.
  10. And lastly – this is a new entry to my top ten – magnifying specs. You know, the kind you can buy in the chemist for reading. I have only got the 1x strength but as my eyes get older along with the rest of me they have made stitching SO much easier.

*this is a very personal list, of course: everyone has their favourite gadgets and methods! You also need good lighting, a comfy chair, someone to make you copious amounts of tea on demand, and an ability to ignore the housework in favour of stitching. This last item comes magically the more you get addicted to your new hobby. You can thank me later though your family probably won’t.

As for the how to cross stitch, there are so many tutorials out there – pick up a cross stitch mag from the newsagent and you’ll find a how-to in the back of very issue, look on You Tube, buy a book, ask a stitchy friend for a crafty bee afternoon.

The year of the handmade gift

I have decided that this is the year of the handmade gift, so if you know me IRL you’ll most likely end up with something crafty this year. If you are one of the lucky recipients (and even if you don’t like it) know that if I have made you something it’s been chosen because I think you’ll like it, because I like you enough to spend my time making you something, and that a lot of thought and time has gone into it.

This week I have handed over two cross stitched things:

The off centre framed picture was a 40th birthday present for a friend – I saw the design on someone else’s timeline and immediately thought of Miriam (happy birthday Miriam!). She loves purple, so I found some mottled pale lavender coloured aida for the fabric. I handed it over yesterday with apologies for the wonky rush job framing as I thought her birthday was next month… the design is from an American mag called Just Cross Stitch (the Halloween 2020 special) and I bought it from Annie’s as a PDF.

The card was inspired by the news at the beginning of a team meeting that a colleague has had her contract extended, and by the note to herself that she had written to remind herself to keep us on track during the meeting. I occasionally describe her job – interpretation producer – as more akin to herding kittens as we do tend to head off after metaphorical balls of museum wool on a terrifyingly regular basis. Her note said ‘facilitate!’ so I immediately thought dalek. Lettering by me, Dalek-19 pattern by Highland Murr Blackwork.

My current project is a nice geeky one by Nerdpillo on Etsy, on 18 count cream aida.

Thing 2 has been enjoying tie-dying over lockdown so I challenged her to dye a piece of fabric for me for a watery design – this is what she came up with and I love it!

And finally here’s a blanket update and some French knitting with six pins!

Welly walks

We dragged all the children outside yesterday for a walk round the burial park in the village – it’s in local ancient woodland, part of the Gaynes Park estate, and it’s lovely. Thing Three was concerned about zombies, but as his father kindly pointed out, I’d had my morning coffee and would probably be OK till I got back.

The woods are filled with bird and bat boxes, and we spotted a mouse on a tree trunk, and the burials themselves are simple and marked with wooden memorials. There are dedicated benches and trees, and lovely carved wooden statues and figures like this hare below.

Thing Two stomped in puddles while One and Three complained that they were tired, their legs hurt, they didn’t like being outside…. I enjoyed it, despite.

In our own garden I discovered that we have some very early primroses, the skeletons of last summer’s physalis, and that fungus has colonised one of the trees.

This week’s cover photo shows the glorious sunrise over Tawney Common this morning: so beautiful that we kept stopping to take pictures as the light changed. You can see more of these on my Instagram feed as they have for some reason not pulled through into Google Photos yet.

And it’s finally snowing, so I am going to leave this here and go and watch the Horde playing outside.

Same time, same place next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Ordeal of the Haunted Room – Jodi Taylor

Nice Jumper – Tom Cox

Baking Bad – Kim M Watt

Urban Drawing (Tate Sketch Club) – Phil Dean

Week forty two: in praise of the humble wellington boot

About this time last year. my walking buddy Jill and I decided that the fields were so muddy and we spent so much time shrieking as our trainers got soaked by puddles that we’d just start wearing wellies instead. With the wellies came much more freedom: not just because we could stop picking our way across the swampy, horse-churned paths, of course, but we also found ourselves actively seeking out muddy puddles and splashing through them. We mutter ‘squelch squerch, squelch squerch’ as we squish through the mud – can’t go over it, can’t go under it, got to go through it! We stomp on icy puddles to hear the crack, and this morning we chose to come back through the fields behind the station as we knew it would sound really crunchy as the footprints – both people, dogs and deer – are filled with ice. Who would have thought that such practical footwear could spark such joy?

The fields are breathtaking this morning: it’s still below zero out there, and the trees are rimed with ice. It was still dark when we went out, the freezing fog was still hanging around, and the white trees loomed in front of us like bloody great ghosty things. A phone camera doesn’t do it justice, as you can’t capture the atmosphere, but these are from our walk this morning:

Walking through the ancient woodland on our way back was a more close-up experience: the frost was outlining leaves and turning the grasses and seedheads into architectural sculpture. It plays havoc with your walking pace but the wearing of wellies turns a walk into a less purposeful, more mindful experience – the word ramble comes to mind. With walking boots or trainers I always feel I should be pushing onwards.

Walking this week, both with Jill this morning and with Sue and the Bella-dog in the afternoons, has been a lifesaver. I had forgotten the home school/work juggling act, trying to focus on a meeting when there are two out of the three children either arguing with each other, with me or asking questions about their set work. Thing One – hurray – just gets on with it. Thing Three – mostly – just gets on with it but is susceptible to being wound up by Thing Two, who occasionally gets on with it but generally accompanies herself with a stream-of-consciousness blow-by-blow of whatever she’s up to. The Spanish lesson – accompanied in Spanglish – was particularly tricky (for me, at least).

However, I am so grateful to all their teachers for providing high quality work for them, as well as making daily contact via Zoom for Thing Three. Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, has put both his feet firmly in it this week by telling parents to email Ofsted and complain if the remote learning wasn’t high quality enough: I believe Ofsted were quite annoyed as well. Parents took to their email and to Twitter to praise schools instead, especially given that on Monday schools were ‘safe to open’ but by Tuesday they were all closed until half term. Twelve – twelve – hours to move entirely online, as the address by the man (described beautifully by my friend Chris as the ‘bloviating haystack’) wasn’t made till 7.30pm.

The other thing saving my sanity this week is – as ever – crafty stuff.

I finished the ‘Second Breakfast’ cross stitch, and have started the temperature tree that I mentioned last week. So far it’s all tree and no temperature, and I have used almost a whole skein of DMC 839. I chose to use sparkly white aida fabric for it for no particular reason other than that I had some and I like it!

All tree, no temperature

And that was my week: it’s been a quiet one, and for that I am grateful. Today my plan is to sort out my craft book shelves and see if I can organise them a bit, and to make oat and raisin cookies as they are a family favourite.

See you at the end of week 43!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

21st Century Yokel – Tom Cox

Educating Peter – Tom Cox

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 seven: bah humbug

I am not good at Christmas – well, I’m not good at the build up to Christmas. I am tense. I am stressed. The mere sight of a Christmas tree before December 1st turns me into the Grinch. My family – bless them – have been asking me for weeks what the children would like for Christmas. I don’t know. Ask them! Ask their father! He is good at Christmas. He has ordered presents. I have not ordered presents. I have not booked my Christmas delivery slot at Tesco (other supermarkets are available).

I have not done Christmas cards for anyone but family for the last several years – work colleagues in a normal year get a tree decoration, and I donate the cost of cards and postage to charity. This year it will be a food bank charity. Until last Sunday I was in deep denial and we ended up dashing to Tesco to buy advent calendars (which we eventually got in M&S, as everywhere else was sold out)

And don’t even get me started on that bloody elf. He could stay on the shelf for all I care, but Things Two and Three come downstairs and look for the stripy little sod every morning. The first year we had an elf, the kids went into hysterics and I had to promise to send it away. I rehomed it, but that didn’t last and their dad bought a new one in Poundland a couple of years later. I salute my neighbour who has two big elves and three baby elves, which is a whole lot of work. Luckily our elf – dubbed ‘Candycane’ by the children – just does what it says on the tin and sits on various shelves rather than getting up to twee mischief.

I am mellowing slightly, however, and Christmas lights are allowed to be put up this weekend. The tree goes up two weekends before Christmas and I am not budging on that. I have noticed that Thing Two has persuaded her dad to get their ‘bedroom tree’ down already, but I’m ignoring it. Teddy the cat was thrilled to catch his first bird as a result of this, however, and proudly dragged the fake robin downstairs to show us… he was practically strutting for the rest of the evening.

Teddy’s first bird…

This year – of all years – I am enjoying the Christmas lights on the way to school, and one of my neighbours always goes all out to decorate their house.

There is one thing that’s guaranteed to make me feel a bit more Christmassy, luckily, and that’s a Christmas movie (Christmas music, too, but we’ll do that another day). Thing Two refused to allow us to watch any before December 1st, but now it’s open season and I can indulge. So here, in no particular order, are my favourite festive films.

1.The Muppets’ Christmas Carol. Michael Caine in possibly his greatest role ever. Excellent ghosts. Muppets. It truly has everything.

2. Scrooged. You can’t go wrong with Bill Murray in anything, and this also has one of the best Christmas theme songs ever in the shape of Al Green and Annie Lennox’s ‘Put a little love in your heart‘. It’s not Christmas till Carol Kane has thwacked Bill Murray with a toaster, frankly.

Scrooged

3. Miracle on 34th Street – the 1934 version is my favourite, but I am quite fond of the Richard Attenborough one too.

4. Elf – The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing out loud for all to hear.

5. It’s a Wonderful Life – my dad’s favourite. James Stewart is wonderful as the frustrated savings and loan owner whose life never goes quite to plan. He’s so human, and if anyone deserves an angel its him.

It’s a Wonderful Life

6. The Christmas Chronicles – a late entry by this Netflix original, with Kurt Russell as a great Santa. Goldie Hawn needs to lay off the Botox though. Plus, a guest appearance by Miami Steve (Steven Van Zandt). The sequel is brought down by the really naff ending.

7. The Hogfather – I reread the book every year, and although this isn’t strictly a film its still part of my Christmas watch list.

HO. HO. HO.

8. Arthur Christmas. Another new one, but a great voice cast.

9. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. If only for the cat.

There are others, of course, but for me its not Christmas until I have watched this lot. (For the record, yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie.)

I feel more festive already.

Lost: one (crafty) mojo

This week – quite apart from it being December – has been a bit challenging, to say the least. Thing One was already isolating after contact with a Covid case in the last week of November, and then on Monday we received an email telling us that the whole of years seven and ten now had to isolate as the number of cases had risen among both students and staff. Back to the home learning then, and I made the decision to work from home with them. While I could leave Thing One alone for a few hours in between my beloved leaving for work and me coming back, it wasn’t fair to expect her to supervise the (very determined) Thing Two. And yes, mum, I know where she gets it from!

Thing One had a great virtual parent/teacher conference this week which told me what I already knew – my daughter is brilliant – and she has worked really hard this week. One of her English tasks was to write a speech, and she spent far longer on it than the allotted lesson time as she was so passionate about her subject. She was writing about mental health; as someone who has been diagnosed with generalised anxiety, this is really important to her (and to me, as someone who lives with depression) and I am really proud that she is engaging with this in her work.

Thing Two is a different matter. She is still getting used to secondary school after six months at home, and unlike her big sister she is not a self-motivator. My work week has been punctuated by demands for assistance with geography, history, English and science (though she did at least get on with the maths by herself). The only plus was that she did the art homework she’d been resisting while avoiding her geography. I have found meetings having meetings with a bad-tempered little presence in the room quite tricky, especially as she’s a curious little bird and likes to come and see who I am talking to. Really I should invite her to the design meetings as she’s the right age and we could pick her brains!

I am tempted not to send them back for the last few days of term, to be honest: the infection rates are highest in the 11-16 age group, as secondary schools didn’t close during lockdown, and keeping them safe has to be my priority. I don’t want whatever Christmas looks like to be spent watching them for symptoms of the virus – Thing One is already fed up of me pouncing on her and feeling her head for signs of a temperature. Poor Thing Three is having to go to school still, as the girls aren’t showing any symptoms, but I suspect he likes the escape.

Having to wear the mum head and the work head at the same time is tiring, as you need to have separate brain spaces, so by the time we finish for the day and I have fed the horde crafting is the last thing on my mind. Dinner is nominally 6pm, but I am flexible as to time zone: it’s six o’clock somewhere, to paraphrase the song.

The very quick stitch I started last week is mostly a frame and some wording, very little has happened with either blanket and the sock is positively languishing in my work bag.

Sometimes when the crafty mojo vanishes it’s good to pick up something different just to get the hands moving, so I delved into my Ravelry library yesterday evening and whipped up a weeping angel amigurumi which will end up on the tree next weekend. The photos were taken on the kids’ mini tree which is lurking upstairs (yes, the one where Teddy ‘caught’ his robin).

I dragged Thing Two out for a muddy walk yesterday, through the woods to the rope swing. We tested out our new wellies, and looked for fungi and mosses. The winter sun was golden and lovely in the trees, and we followed deer tracks through the mud. There has been a lot of rain this week, so it was good to get out into the sunshine.

So that was week 37. Winter has set in with a vengeance, with sub zero temps – the lake was 5 degrees yesterday, so hopefully it won’t be too much colder this morning. We didn’t get to swim last week as the police shut it down as a ‘gathering’ despite the social distancing measures that Redricks had put in place. Is it weird to be looking forward to getting into freezing water?

See you at the end of week 38, when the tree will be up and I’ll be well into my list of festive films. Which ones have I missed out?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Crochet Hacking – Emma Friedlander-collins

The Dark Archive (Invisible Library) – Genevieve Cogman

Forged (Alex Verus) – Benedict Jacka

The Third Nero (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Week thirty three: here we go again

You know, I’m tired. I’m really, really tired. And fed up. And angry (though regular readers will have spotted that this is becoming a far more frequent state of mind for me). And resigned. And sad. And all sorts of other emotions that are probably common to a lot of us right now.

On Thursday, we entered Lockdown: The Sequel here in England. Wales and NI very sensibly started their ‘firebreaks’ a couple of weeks ago, before half term so the kids were off school anyway. The trouble is, like many sequels, this one just doesn’t seem to be quite as good as the first – I mean, it’s not as bad as High School Musical 3, but it’s still a bit rubbish.

The kids are still in school, for a start, which means that they’re mixing with their friends: admittedly within their bubbles but, logistically, this means that in a multi-form entry school those bubbles can have just under 100 children in. Those children may have siblings in other bubbles, so no bubbles are sealed. They also have parents and carers, who may still be working – some in schools, with other bubbles – and using public transport and things. But apparently it’s fine because those children aren’t allowed to see each other outside school, and we have all got the message that Covid-19 is only contagious in your house or garden, or where no money is changing hands or being made.

I get to go to work three days a week in this lockdown, because there is work that’s impossible for me to do from home: assessing and decanting thousands of handling collection objects, for example, and packing up the office ready for the move. I didn’t go in on Thursday but from what I hear from those who did, there was little difference in transport and travel. When I do go in, I’ll follow the guidelines: social distancing as far as possible on the tube and in the museum, wearing a face covering properly, washing my hands frequently and so on. I’ll carry on travelling outside peak times – I’m in the office at 6.30am and leave at lunchtime, logging back in at home to finish my day and picking up Thing 3 from school so he’s not going to childcare.

I will follow the guidelines, not because I trust our government or because I like to do what everyone else does, but because in 2020 so far I have missed my niece’s first confirmation, my sister’s 40th birthday, my family holiday, going to live music events and author talks, and being able to see my London sister with the kids. I’ve missed my culture and cocktail afternoons with my best friend. I’ve missed pink-wine-fuelled Chinese meals with the Pink Ladies gang. I’ve missed my own birthday barbecue. Things One and Two couldn’t have proper birthday celebrations. I’ve missed impromptu Friday afternoons in the pub garden. I’ve missed sneaky weekday lunches with colleagues and walks round Victoria Park to see the dogs and ducks. I’ve missed my stepdaughters and grandson being around the house whenever they want. I haven’t seen my parents or the Irish contingent in more than two years, and I miss them. My dad is going to be 80 in February and I’d really, really like to be there.

In the grand scheme of Covid-19, I’ve been very lucky: no one in my family has been hospitalised. None of my friends have either, though many of my friends are nurses and they have lost friends and colleagues. I’ve been able to swim outdoors regularly (though that was cancelled this weekend). I live in the countryside with a lovely garden, so I have outdoor space. I’ve had an unexpected six months with my children, which has been wonderful. Christmas will happen, whatever the red-tops are saying about ‘saving’ it: it’s never been about the parties for me. It might look a bit different this year, but it’ll still happen.

But I’d like to believe there’s an end to this, and until an effective vaccine is in place that’s not going to happen. So until then I will wear the face covering to protect other people, and I will wash my hands, and I won’t hug my friends even though this year we have needed hugs more than ever. And I expect I’ll carry on being angry, and tired, and sad. But it won’t be forever.

Onto more cheerful things…

This week hasn’t been all bad, really. I’ve fitted in a fair bit of making, including finishing the Marble Floor cross stitch design that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. I decided to include rainbow colours, as they have become a bit of a symbol for 2020 and the museum has also collected a lot of Lockdown Rainbows for a display that was due to open at the V&A this month. I’ve also included a phrase which comes from Ren & Stimpy but has become a bit of a catchphrase at work. It needs a bit of an iron, but I think its turned out OK – the geometry feels quite elegant, and I really like the effect of the colours across the middle. I used 18 count ivory aida fabric and DMC threads – two strands for the black (310) and one for the colours (from left to right: 666, 740, 973, 907, 3845, 336, 333). You can find the basic chart here if you’d like to make your own.

I have also been making progress on the Hydrangea blanket: the colours are muted and lovely, and the pattern is simple and repetitive but effective.

I really must sew in the ends.

On the tube I am making socks from one of this month’s crochet magazines. I frogged the first attempt as they were too big, but the second attempt is coming up better! I’m using a Cygnet Yarns wool-rich patterned sock yarn in shades of pink and purple.

One good thing about not swimming this morning was going out for a walk through the very misty woods. We sensibly wore wellies and stayed off the paths a lot, as they are quite churned up after the very soggy October we had. There’s some beautiful fungi in the woods again – you can see a Fly Agaric in the cover photo this week that I spotted up near the fishing lake yesterday, and today’s spots are below. I have no idea what they are but I love the autumnal colours (and don’t plan to pick or eat them!).

It would be remiss not to mention the best news of the international week, which of course is the American presidency: I am more excited about Kamala Harris than Biden, but mostly I’m just happy for my US friends and colleagues. I’ll never forget going into work the morning after Trump was elected and finding my American colleague devastated and googling how to renounce her American citizenship.

My plan for the rest of the day is to finally bind the Bento Box quilt after backing it yesterday, and then settling down with cross stitch and Midsomer Murders. We are watching recorded episodes at the moment and the adverts really give you a sense of who is watching ITV3 of an afternoon – mobility aids, life insurance for the over 50s, charity appeals, and conservatory blinds. Still, it’s always entertaining to see just how bonkers the murders can get! It really is a guilty pleasure, and good company on a crafty afternoon. Thing One is now getting into it as well.

See you on the other side of week 34, when I promise my normal cheery service will be resumed. Everyone is entitled to an off day.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Now you see them (The Brighton Mysteries) – Elly Griffiths

The Spook Who Spoke Again (Falco) – Lindsey Davis

Nemesis (Falco) and The Ides of April (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

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-seven: in defence of craft

Here I am again, having survived my first trip to Tesco in two months. Survived is the right word – I haven’t seen it so busy since March, with people stocking up on goods in case the country goes tits-up (the technical term!) again. I’d just like to say I’m not hoarding anything except chocolate malted milk biscuits. Fat chance! The freezer is full, the cupboard is overflowing….and I bet I’ll still end up in the Co-op at least once this week. How does the Horde eat so much? Will their father eventually turn into a chocolate digestive? And…what did I forget?

On Friday I virtually attended an inspiring Zoom conference run by the Craft Council, entitled ‘The Future of Craft in Education‘, which was fascinating (catering was awful though…). I didn’t think staring at a screen for the best part of six hours at the end of the week would be possible, but it was over almost too soon. The organiser ensured talks were short, breakout groups were well-organised and I am in awe of the person who managed the tech as it was seamless.

What happens when you clear a space for your tablet and notebook.

Imagine my horror when the head of one of the big academy chains declared that in order to help children ‘catch up’ with their education they would be abandoning creative subjects in favour of maths, English and. Science. The head of my daughters’ academy (who is, tellingly, from a drama background) was keen to reassure us that they would be looking at how to build core subject knowledge into the rest of the curriculum so students didn’t miss out. Much as I rant about the National Curriculum, it does set out the need for a broad and balanced education. I could wish that the cross-curricular links made explicit in Design Technology were mentioned to other subject teachers, but that’s another conversation!

However, during the pandemic ‘craft’ has come into its own, both as a source of well-being and as a way to do all those little things around the house that people haven’t had time for before: upcycling and mending clothes, cooking and baking, DIY, as well as the things we would more commonly identify as ‘crafts’. In August, Hobbycraft reported a 200% boom in online sales since the start of the pandemic, and as a dedicated online craft shopper I know that demand was high across the sector. There’s been a lot of focus across the cultural sector on the benefits of arts on well-being, and a slew of articles (like this one and this one) have been written on why craft is good for you. Lockdown – particularly for those of us on furlough – has given us permission to craft, to take up new hobbies and to revisit old pleasures. Various friends have taken up embroidery, started sourdough baking, experimented with cyanotype printing, made furniture, followed Bob Ross tutorials. I have loved seeing all their beautiful work on social media and it would be sad if these activities stopped when the world goes back to ‘normal’. The Crafts Council launched their brilliant ‘Let’s Craft’ initiative during lockdown, providing packs for families in need, via food banks and community hubs. This was really important at a time when some families were struggling to put food on their tables and luxuries were – literally – not on the menu.

The last ten years or so have seen a huge drop off in the take up of creative subjects at GCSE and above, especially Design Technology: perhaps due to the government focus on EBacc achievement, perhaps due to a belief that a ‘creative career’ isn’t one you can make a living at, and that all your education should be focused on an end goal of a ‘good job’ rather than on the transferable skills like problem-solving and team working that creative subjects can foster in children. My own secondary school pushed two routes: academic and vocational. I really wish I’d taken some creative subjects at GCSE, as I have definitely found more use for those skills than I have for French and Computer Studies!

And while this recognition of the benefits of craft is long overdue, it’s also a further threat to craft in education. Craft is currently being touted as something that can help children’s recovery, with their wellbeing, but not as a proper subject. Back in the eighties when I was in school there was a subject called ‘CDT’ or ‘DCT’ – craft, design and technology (or design, craft and technology) so craft was right there in front of us. It was in woodwork, in metalwork, in textiles. You could get an O-level with the word ‘craft’ in it – it was a proper subject. You learned how to use machinery (and hopefully how not to cut your finger off like every CDT teacher ever), how to transform a flat drawing into a 3D object, and how to make an apron. Technically the word still exists in the subject ‘Art, Craft and Design’ – but more often this also becomes just ‘art’ or ‘art and design’.

Somewhere along the line that word ‘craft’ was dropped and with it the importance of making. Design became the whole of the thing, even though even Sir Terence Conran said that

…I have always been concerned with the practical aspects of design, and relate my work to the manufacturing process. I have never designed anything that I wouldn’t know how to make myself.

The word craft became associated with craft fairs, with the sort of crochet your gran does, with the WI or the Mothers’ Union….with women, in fact. It became marginalised. It’s not a coincidence that the take-up of DT is mainly by boys, and the reverse is seen in art take up.

Yet…

Craft is democratic. It’s the great leveller – anyone can do it, and the past six months shows that they have. You can have a degree in it if you want – but you don’t have to. There’s so many tutorials on YouTube, on Craftsy, in books and magazines, that you don’t need to go to school to learn it. I crochet, quilt, cross stitch, make clothes – and I have taught myself to do these things.

Craft is community. Manu Maunganidwe, one of the speakers on Friday, spoke of his first experience of craft in the Somali village where he grew up. People came together to build a new house – they brought time and skills and they made a house from the ground up, because you can’t build a house by yourself. He spoke passionately about the need for children to experience tools and making.

Craft is haptic. It connects you through the sense of touch, through the experience of materials: choosing the fabric for a dressmaking project by stroking and folding it to see how it creases, squeezing the yarn at a yarn show, the squish of mud when a child makes mud pies. It is sensual. The process of making is sensory – sanding wood to make it smooth, smooth clay, the pull of embroidery floss through fabric.

Craft is resilience. You make a mistake, you try again. Later, when you begin to design your own projects, you try something out, you tweak it, you try again. This is the same iterative process that designers go through.

Craft is cross-disciplinary: You apply knowledge to solving problems: maths is invaluable across all manner of crafts (to crochet a sphere you need your times tables!), yarn dyers use science, a crochet pattern is a simple code. Last year I made a crochet model to demonstrate hyperbolic planes (negative space) for a maths session, mimicking shapes in nature.

Craft is cultural. Children from all communities grow up surrounded by traditional crafts in their homes: fabrics, art, cooking, embroidery, hairstyling. This is not reflected in the current curriculum. A key part of the day was about how craft could help with anti-racism, and my resolution is to seek out diverse makers for the new schools programme to reflect our local area.

Craft is expression: emotional and artistic. I can’t draw but I can make. No, I can’t draw yet. I will draw.

Craft is co-ordination. Barbara Hepworth, the sculptor, wrote that she had a thinking hand and a doing hand. You need hand-eye co-ordination to hit a nail with a hammer, to direct a needle to the right hole. I am a kinaesthetic learner and I learn by doing, through muscle memory. Crochet helps me focus. I can make a granny square while watching a Zoom conference without looking at my hands. If my hands are empty I find things to fidget with.

One sleeve completed during the craft conference

Craft is revolution. Not just in the William Morris Arts and Crafts Movement sense of revolution, but a quiet, beautiful revolution. Yarn bombing is a public, visual way to express an idea or an issue. After the terrorist attacks in Manchester and on London Bridge thousands of us knitted, crocheted or sewed hearts with a message of support and love for the residents of our cities as well as the victims of the atrocities. I sent some to Manchester and yarnbombed Canary Wharf and the Central line with messages of hope and love. Craftivism is a thing. This week on Radio 4’s Four Thought there was a fascinating programme on ‘gentle protest’ that you can find here.

In how many of these statements can you replace the word craft with the word art?

I know there are things I have missed here: please do share what craft is to you, and why you do it!

The last act for the conference was to make a pledge to craft education – something the Craft Council have been asking people to do for a while. Mine is to carry on pushing craft to anyone who’ll listen, and to be proud to be a ‘crafter’.

And while I’m on the subject…

Here’s the finished crochet puppy for the small girl who isn’t allowed a dog – at least she won’t have to pick up after this one! The cardigan is lacking one sleeve, but I have done the cuff so it won’t take long. We are watching the new series of Ghosts so I am staying awake long enough to finish things!

I also have a giant pile of fluffy quilted blocks – I had to make three more in the end, which still need to be quilted, but then I can start putting the bento box quilt together.

Wild wanders

I went out for an early walk this morning for the first time in a while. The weather has been a bit blustery for the last couple of days, and it really feels as if Autumn has arrived.

The clearance of scrub on the fields behind us is now finished and the brambles have been piled up in stacks all over the place, exposing the pylon anchors left when they put the power cables underground in the 90s. They reminded me this morning of standing stones – twentieth century monoliths. I am heartbroken at the damage to wildlife habitat – there were no deer to be seen this morning, though there was a prowling fox, several green woodpeckers, and lots of rabbits.

There have of course been a few swims – one late afternoon on Thursday. The light is so different at that time of day, with the sun low over the trees. The water is getting colder – around the 17 degrees mark, and I did feel it when I got out of the lake on Thursday. I am in charge of hot chocolate, which always reminds me of post-swim treats when I was young. Machine hot choc back then – I hope mine is better!

The temperature in the lake this morning was 13 degrees, the coldest we have swum and we very sensibly got out after half a lap (about 400m). I tested the DIY dry robe and I was positively toasty! However, this will be me for the rest of the day:

Teddy has autumn nailed

So that’s my week! It flew by. Next week I am going in to the office – how exciting! Is there still life west of Epping? It’s been a long time…

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Breakdown/Heartbreak Hotel (Alex Delaware) – Jonathan Kellerman

A Body in the Bath House (Falco) – 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: are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

I have mentioned before that I’m a bit of a reader and have been since an early age. I suspect, given that my parents are also big readers, that it was partially self-defence and then it became a habit. Both parents read to us and created their own stories – Galumphus the Dragon was my dad’s character, and Jeremy John stories came from my mum. I continued to listen in when my much younger sister was being read to, and for me one of the joys of teaching was story time at the end of the day; whether that was a picture book or, further up the school, a chapter book.

One of the last sessions I created at the Museum of London Docklands was a sensory, interactive story called ‘The Cinnamon Birds’, as an introduction to the idea of international trade for Key Stage 1 and family groups. I loved telling it – from gathering my audience Pied Piper-style, moving through the museum with a beautiful dragon puppet on my shoulder, to casting a story spell with tales of cunning merchants and wafts of magical scents and treasures from a pirate chest.

At the V&A Museum of Childhood, we had a hardcore of parents and children who would come every day for the Animal Magic session at 2pm, led by the Activity Assistants who used puppets, music, projection and more to bring both classic stories and their own work to life. It didn’t matter how often the families heard We’re going on a bear hunt! – this time was part of their daily routine. (Lia, one of the former AAs, has now set up her own business with her mum creating sustainable story sacks, with all the contents and materials sourced from charity shops and community markets. I love this idea – check them out, they are Oranges and Lemons and their product is wonderful).

I still love listening to stories – when I’m commuting I can be found on the Central Line listening to audio books and crocheting my way to work. I refuse to confess to the number of times I have missed my stop as I was distracted by an exciting bit…

When my Horde were small I took the opportunity to gather the books that I had loved as a child, as well as discovering new stories. So here are some of our favourite picture books*….

  1. The Tiger Who Came To Tea – Judith Kerr. This is more than 50 years old now and still wonderful. Also her Mog books, and her autobiographical ones. When we get back to whatever normal looks like, keep an eye out for the touring exhibition from Seven Stories.
  2. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak. Another classic from the 1960s, and I love it. A wild rumpus always sounds like fun.
  3. Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell . My bunch all loved lifting the flaps and shouting along with the words, making animal noises. I bought this one at Stansted Airport on the way to France with Thing 1, and her Grandpere spent a lot of time reading it to her on that holiday.
  4. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle. Another one they loved to recite with me, or finish the sentences when they were very small.
  5. Hairy McLary from Donaldson’s Dairy – Lynley Dodd. We had a CD with these stories too, and David Tennant was perfect as the narrator. Thing 2 also loved The Dudgeon is Coming.
  6. Is it bedtime, Wibbly Pig? – Mick Inkpen. Every parent knows the torture of bedtime! Wibbly Pig’s Silly Big Bear always makes me cry.
  7. No Matter What – Debi Gliori – big thinking for little people.We still love them even when they’re naughty!
  8. My Big Shouting Day – Rebecca Patterson. Another one of Thing 2’s favourites. I think she identified with the main character (so did I).
  9. Dinosaur Roar! – Henrietta and Paul Stickland. We got this one free from Bookstart and Thing 3 LOVED it.
  10. Tiddler – Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. All this pair’s books are wonderful, but this one was their favourite.
  11. Funnybones – Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Thing 3 thought this was hilarious. They also loved Each Peach Pear Plum and hunting for the fairytale characters in the illustrations.
  12. Tell Me A Dragon – Jackie Morris. I fell in love with her glorious, magical illustrations through another Bookstart book – Can you see a Little Bear? – which she illustrated for James Mayhew, and when Tell Me A Dragon came out with a dedication to Terry Pratchett, I bought it for myself. Of course I read it to the children too. Her work with Robert Macfarlane in The Lost Words is exquisite and I was lucky enough to catch the exhibition at the Foundling Museum in 2018.
  13. The Dancing Tiger – Malachy Doyle. Thing 2’s nickname is ‘Tiger’ so we read a lot of books about tigers! This is one of my favourites. We don’t stop dancing when we get old!
  14. The Mousehole Cat – Antonia Barber.We discovered this one via a CBeebies bedtime story, read by Shobna Gulati, and bought our own copy. Thing 1 loved the Storm Cat.
  15. That Pesky Rat – Lauren Child. Runner up here goes to Who wants to be a Poodle? I don’t – I love her collaged illustrations.
  16. I Really Want to Eat a Child – Sylviane Donnio. Another of Thing 2’s favourites! She has always been the most anarchic, subversive child and this story really appealed to her.
  17. Lost and Found – Oliver Jeffers. All of us loved this one – there’s a beautiful TV adaptation too.
  18. Penguin – Polly Dunbar. This one was a library story time discovery when Thing 1 was small. Inevitably she would have fallen asleep in the buggy on the walk to the library but I always stayed for the story!
  19. Not Now, Bernard – David McKee. Poor Bernard! And poor monster…
  20. Whatever Next – Jill Murphy. Thing 3 solemnly informed his playschool aunty that ‘Mummy said I am allowed to go to the moon….but I can’t go up the chimney.’ That one took a bit of explaining.

Special mentions also to Mayer Mercer’s There’s a Nightmare in My Cupboard, The Bear’s Toothache by David McPhail, Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss, and – finally, I promise – Lost in the Toy Museum by David Lucas. So many schools read this before visiting the museum that we eventually offered it as a session, and it was very popular.

Thing 2 still occasionally asks for a story – we read The Ordinary Princess by M M Kaye earlier this year, and we’ve started Anne of Green Gables. Thing 3 likes to listen in… he is the biggest reader of them all at the moment.

Even once children have learned to read themselves, there is magic in hearing a story well told. Reluctant readers may find their way in to reading this way, and I always told worried parents that as long as their children were reading, it didn’t matter what it was. Reading schemes, while worthy and phonically sound, are often boring. Find what they want to read and let their imaginations fly!

What are your favourites?

(*not affiliate links, just Amazon. Other book sellers are available!)

Morgan jeans finished at last…

.and they are my new favourite thing. I bought the pattern after making Closet Core’s Ginger skinny jeans, which I wrote about in Week Fourteen. The fly hadn’t gone well, but I liked the process of making the jeans and thought I’d try something in a style I wouldn’t usually wear. I bought some bargain midweight rigid denim from The Textile Centre – the first package disappeared in the post but they were really helpful in replacing it. I buy from them quite often, as they are very reasonably priced and the fabrics are always great quality.

The pattern instructions were very clear – the indie designers are far better than the Big 4 (Simplicity, Vogue, Butterick, McCalls) pattern companies at providing step by step instructions, and usually have good photographs of the process.

Well, these were a dream make, even when I put one of the pocket linings on backwards and had to frog it. I was trying to take special care with the pockets as I’d got them the wrong way last time. I even re-cut one of the pocket linings as I was using a directional print and didn’t want it upside down, even though under normal circumstances no one will be looking at the inside of my jeans! The maneki neko fabric was from Ali Express, and it’s a good 100% cotton quilting weight. Expect to see more of it in a future quilt!

In terms of sizing, I took out 5mm from the straight leg seam allowance, but I don’t think I needed to so I’ll leave it in next time. I also took out some length in the leg – 5cm, this time – and I think this was about right. I like the cropped length with my trusty Birkenstocks.

I was very careful with the fly, after last time, and this time I got it right. I also went the whole hog and added rivets, belt loops and made my own ‘brand’ patch using a woven label from The Pink Coat Club. Both the jeans buttons and the rivets came from EBay.

Overall I am pretty pleased with them, though a sewing friend suggested I made the pockets a bit smaller and placed them a bit higher to be more flattering, which I will do next time. I have some black cord that will work well with this pattern, so there *will* be a next time! I wore them on Tuesday, when I ventured onto a train to take one of my stepdaughters to an appointment, and they were so easy to wear, even as the temperature rose.

I remembered my mask, too – home made, of course.

Foxy!

I’m still working on my attic windows quilt, and will hopefully finish the top this week. I am going to attempt sashing between blocks, so let’s see how that goes! Here’s the different blocks laid out on the fabric I have chosen for the sashing. I’ve tried to be quite accurate with my sizing – I trimmed the single window squares to the same size and squared off the edges before putting them into the larger blocks, and the larger blocks have been squared to 11 3/4″. I’m not entirely sure how big this is going to end up! I have a double duvet cover (well, the reverse of one -the front is going to be a circle skirt) for backing, so hopefully that’ll be large enough!

Attic window blocks

As an aside – I have a Quilting board on Pinterest, and I opened up the site in a new tab to remind me to have a look at it when I’d finished writing this. An hour later, I realised I’d fallen down the rabbit hole and rather than looking at the pins on the board, I’d got about 30 tabs open, had pinned a whole new set of ideas and still hadn’t finished this post!

Adventures in the great outdoors

I haven’t done quite as much swimming this week as one of my buddies was working up in London, but we have managed a couple of early morning plunges and a late afternoon dip, which was most welcome when the temperatures were in the high 20s. We swam just as the sun was starting to go down, surrounded by damselflies and ducks, and it was quite blissful. We did about a lap and a half, so just over a kilometre.

Early morning walks have been good too – we are more than 70% of the way towards the August 30k challenge I mentioned last week. One morning we went round the fields via the flood meadow (see this week’s cover photo) which is filled with wild flowers, and on another via the farm where we finally coaxed the little black barn cat close enough to pet. There’s a lot of black cats on the farms round here! His marmalade friend joined in with the fuss too. Next time we walk we are going to take boxes and pick blackberries, as the hedges are groaning with them.

How does your garden grow?

Closer to home, the garden is looking beautiful – one of the sunflowers is now nine feet tall, and hasn’t flowered yet! The sunset-coloured one below is probably about seven feet tall (you can see the stalk of the big one behind it), and the bees love them. The squirrels will also love the seeds when the flowers are finished.

We also made a trip to the garden centre for compost and came home with more sad plants – these two Black Eyed Susans outside my shed, these flame-like celosia that look like Calcifer from Howl’s Moving Castle, and some heliotropes and calla lilies.

Bailey and Teddy are making the most of their catio, as you can see – they love being able to come outside and watch the birds close up. The catio is made of a dog cage, bits of fireguard and a lot of cable ties. We keep adding bits on to try and stop Lulu escaping, as she’s a bit of a Houdini!

Hey, what happened with that job interview?

We heard mid-week that we hadn’t been successful but the consensus view is that we don’t mind! We enjoyed the process and we can continue to work together on the project at our own museum with a new understanding of each other’s skills and experiences, and how well we work as a team. Hopefully we also started people thinking differently about how job shares can work, and got them thinking about what innovation might look like in a multi-site organisation!

You can find out more about the V&A East project here and about the Museum of Childhood transformation here.

And that’s it from me for the week – I have a kitchen full of kids causing chaos, more in the tent in the garden, and I probably ought to supervise!

Same time next week for week 21 then!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

American Demon – Kim Harrison (the new Hollows novel! Yay!)

The Pearl King (Crow Investigations) – Sarah Painter

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

Week nineteen: in which I looked tidy for the first time since March

A Tuesday interlude…

I have had a whole host of new experiences this week already! Not only my first virtual job interview, but it was the first time I’d applied for a job share, for a secondment, and for a temporary maternity cover role. It was also the first time that I’d prepared for and attended an interview as part of a team.

Keen followers of the East London museum scene will know that the V&A is branching out even further eastwards than Bethnal Green, and creating a shiny new museum on the East Bank in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. There are so many parallels with our own redevelopment project, and both projects are working across the same boroughs, that we felt it would bring a new dimension to our own practice as well as a wider insight into the locality if one of us were to move a couple of stops down the Central Line for a few months.

The trouble was… none of us were keen on doing it alone, as we all have specific experiences and this role would cover all our audiences. I am formal, C is informal and H is creative. As a triumvirate (or an unholy trinity/three-headed monster depending on who you talk to!) we work very collaboratively: bouncing ideas off each other, supporting each other, representing the team and feeding back, developing ideas together (some madder than others – the Museum LARP session hasn’t come to fruition yet but there’s still time!) and bringing all our individual skills to the learning party.

That’s me on the right, by the way (Powerpuff Girls image from pngwave.com)

In a team Zoom social, someone suggested we ALL applied for it as a jobshare. “That’ll blow their minds, ha ha!” they said. We chatted about how that could work, what it might mean for each museum, and our line manager and director (I know she’s reading this!) were supportive. So…. we did.

The three of us contributed to the supporting statement and then put in our separate application forms, and crossed our fingers. We weren’t sure if we’d even get an interview, as a three-way job share might have been a step too far, but we all felt our statement was really powerful. We were fairly sure that with a combined 40+ years of experience in the culture, arts and heritage sector we could demonstrate a good understanding of what the role would require. We also proposed an outline of how the job share might work, and how the role could be managed. We are lucky, as we had a period last year in between line managers when we had to work in a similar way, sharing information and acting as one.

On Monday we were told that we’d be interviewed….on Tuesday. Cue frantic Zooming, planning our strategy and going over the job description, all the information we had to hand about the East project, trying to anticipate the questions we might be asked and challenges the panel might raise about managing the job share. We broke down the role responsibilities, decided on an order for us to answer questions so no one had more of a voice than the other two, and came up with a plan for how we’d pass the baton between us.

One of the most important things we did was to share our CVs with each other, so we could ensure the most appropriate person could answer a question. So useful – I had no idea of the breadth of experience in the team! As a team bonding and development exercise it worked really well. Going through the documentation we had access to and matching it to the role description and our skill sets – as a team and individually – was a great way to remind ourselves what a well-rounded team we are. I don’t know about C & H but my confidence in what we were trying to do was boosted immensely by this.

I usually hate internal interviews (OK, I hate all interviews) but knowing I was in this with my brilliant colleagues made it better. Three against three, and we could fill in the gaps for each other. For the first time ever I am not sitting here post-interview thinking ‘I wish I’d remembered to say that!’ The virtual format probably helped, as at no point could I see the whole panel.

Whatever the outcome, I think we acquitted ourselves pretty well! (Plus, I put make up and a dress on for the first time since March.) Can’t wait to get back to working with the team!

(Sunday update: we haven’t heard whether we were successful or not, but I still feel good that we did something that put us outside our comfort zone, helped us understand the benefits of the way we work anyway, and which put us on the wider museum radar.)

Sunday service resumes

After the interview and a debrief with the team I went for my first massage since the end of January. I hold a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders, probably from sitting in all sorts of weird positions while I crochet, cross stitch or sew; and I also suffer from migraine and tension headache. I try and have a monthly treatment with the wonderful Paula, who lives round the corner, and I have been seeing her since she was training to be a sports massage therapist.

Since qualifying as a sports therapist she has taken additional courses in cupping, facial massage and gua sha and she combines these (along with a sympathetic ear!) to create a bespoke experience for each of her clients. And it is blissful…although you do have to answer a few funny questions about cupping marks in the summer. Here in the village its like a badge of honour or membership of an exclusive club – Paula’s clients compare marks! There was a lot of interest from Bangladeshi women when I did an event at work last summer after cupping – they wanted to know where I’d had it done, and if it helped. Some said their husbands had it done regularly too.

At the moment, of course, facial massage is off the table so I had 45 minutes of work on my back and neck, including some gua sha, and I felt AMAZING afterwards. Thoroughly relaxed, and looser than I had been for several months. There’s no cupping yet, as there’s a risk of blood clots after Covid-19 (though as far as I’m aware I haven’t had it), so that’s something to look forward to.

The great outdoors

I’ve had a very active week! My swimming buddies and I have been up to Redricks Lakes three times this week – my cover image is the main lake. Sue and I went at 9am on Wednesday, and had our first independent swim in the main lake. We went back on Thursday afternoon as it was so hot and then Rachel joined us for an early dip on Saturday. There’s a nice mix of swimmers – super fast triathletes or club members who zoom about front crawling, fitness swimmers and people like us who mainly breast stroke round chatting and enjoying the process.

There’s a lot more bird life in this lake, so we encountered a mama coot with a young noisy brood of six tiny, scruffy chicks, and more coots with older chicks who are a bit more independent. There was also a grebe with her chick, who we swam quite close to. They don’t worry too much about the slow swimmers but the crawlers gave them a shock!

My walking friend Jill and I have signed up for Runkeeper’s August challenge, where we need to track 30k over the month. We are early morning walkers, except on Sunday when we have a lie-in and don’t go out until 7am. Today we knocked 8k off the 30k challenge, with a walk through the Lower Forest (aka Wintry Wood) to Epping and back via Coopersale and the Gernon Bushes nature reserve. We are not the fastest walkers but we do use it as an opportunity to clear our heads for the coming week and to put the world to rights. Both of us are subject to depression, so this is talking therapy for us.

We try and do a couple of shorter walks in the week, and then a longer one on Sundays. The summer is best as we can use the fields and woods, but in the winter they get a bit swampy – the Cripsey Brook feeder streams surround the village, though luckily we have an excellent flood alleviation scheme. This last winter we did a lot of our walks in wellies, and yes – we did jump in muddy puddles. Why should the kids have all the fun?

Muddy puddle!

The great indoors

Cooking with Kevin this week included making cinnamon sugar sourdough pretzels – we love soft pretzels in this house, and there was a lot of sourdough discard to use up. We also had pizza, which is becoming a firm family favourite.

Angry bread

This was also the week that I put the bread in the oven for a cold bake and when I took it out an hour later the casserole was empty….. and the dough was still rising on the counter behind me. It had a normal bake instead – but don’t you think the way the ‘ear’ has baked into eyebrows makes him look a bit cross?

Thing 2 and I made chocolate fudge brownies, too, using a recipe that I have had for years – I’m not even sure where it’s from but its very easy and quite delicious.

Chocolate Fudge Brownies

  • 50g self-raising flour (or plain flour and 1/2 tsp baking powder)
  • 100g plain chocolate
  • 50g butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4tbsp golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • optional: 75g walnuts, chopped

Melt the chocolate, butter and golden syrup over a gentle heat and set aside to cool.

Stir in the beaten eggs, flour, vanilla and walnuts if you’re using them.

Pour into a lined 18cm square tin and bake at 180c (Gas 4, 350f) for 25mins.

Serve warm with ice cream.

See? Super easy!

The crafting table

This week has had no finishes at all! Monday and Tuesday were so busy prepping for the interview that nothing got done.

I did make a start on the Closet Core Patterns Morgan jeans – the front is done, but I’ll leave full details for a proper review next week. I will rave about two tools I’ve been using to make them this week instead though. The first is the Clover Hot Hemmer (Long) which I’d had on my Amazon crafty wishlist for ages, and which was one of my birthday voucher purchases. It’s so useful – usually when prepping pockets I’d either spend ages with a chalk pencil, the iron and pins marking out the hems, or I’d be superlazy and guess the width which meant wonky pockets. With this ruler-type gadget you simply fold over the fabric to the right depth and iron. Brilliant, and no burned fingers either.

Hot hemmer in action – image from Clover website

The other gadget is a wool pressing mat – this gadget claims to retain heat to make pressing easier, quicker and more efficient. It seems to work – though the steam leaks through so I have been using mine on the ironing board or my cutting mat. Anything that makes ironing easier is a plus!

I have almost finished the first of the custom dolls – she needs a haircut (don’t we all right now?) and a mouth but otherwise she’s pretty complete. I’d forgotten how long it takes to do the hair! The companion doll has long hair and a beard….

I’d better get back to my crochet hook….

Same time, same place for the Week twenty update?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Dead Land by Sara Paretsky (The latest VI Warshawski novel – I am all caught up!)

Tales from the Folly – Ben Aaronovitch (a Rivers of London short story collection – too short!)

Last Act in Palmyra/Time to Depart (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis on Audible

Listening to…

Hollywood Park – The Airborne Toxic Event

American III: Solitary Man – Johnny Cash

Podcast: The Socially Distant Sports Bar (Elis James, Mike Bubbins and Steff Garrero) via Spotify