140: so, when are we coming back then?

After being named and shamed twice in last week’s post, Jill would like me to point out that she not only made it down to breakfast at 8am yesterday, she arrived a whole five minutes before I did. And she absolutely did not have two naps on Friday afternoon in the Relaxation Lounge.

This weekend eleven of us have been away on an overnighter to Lifehouse, a spa and hotel in Thorpe-le-Soken in Essex as part of a ‘big birthday’ celebration. Booked last March, it’s been a long time coming and we have all been looking forward to it – and the wait was worthwhile. A few of us had booked Friday off work and arrived before lunchtime, while the others drifted up over the day. It’s just over an hour away from our bit of Essex, so not too far, but still far enough away for it to feel like a break.

Lifehouse, although set in some beautiful English Heritage gardens, is a contemporary hotel and the spa is very well-equipped: pool, hydropool (aka a bloody great jacuzzi thing), sauna and steam room, ‘salt inhalation experience’ and a plunge pool kept at 16 degrees, which after a sauna or steam feels a LOT colder. There are treatment rooms, a HUGE nail salon, and two lovely relaxation lounges – one dark with blankets, and the other light with views over the gardens. There’s a terrace balcony outside this one but it’s November so we admired it from within.

The pool was quite cool, so it was nice to hop out of there and into one of the hot rooms, and there were loungers around so you could relax and read (or crochet). It was quite busy when we arrived and when we left, but there were quieter periods in the day – it being Essex there was a terrifying amount of fake-tanned skin on display as well as our pale (but interesting) skin, and the friendly staff are excellent advertisements for the wide range of beauty treatments on offer. Various members of the gang indulged in massages, wraps, manicures and pedicures, facials, and two of us even did the guided meditation session. I always feel that a day in a dressing gown being terribly indulgent is a day well-spent, and we all made the most of it. Apparently there is also a gym, but I forgot my PE kit, honest. Somewhere there is a ‘hidden sanctuary’ for couples, but we didn’t see that! You can roam the hotel in your robes and slippers, but after 6pm you have to put your clothes on, bringing a whole new meaning to ‘dressing for dinner’. No wet bottoms are allowed in the bar or restaurant which caused much hilarity: maturity is not coming with age, it seems.

We made time in our hectic schedule for a few meals in the hotel restaurant: for lunch on Saturday I had cumin-roasted cauliflower which came with roasted kale, baba ghanoush, mint and pomegranate while others tried out various sandwiches and a risotto, and for dinner I tried the home made gnocchi with slow-cooked bolognese sauce. Chicken in a basket and scampi and chips were not featured on the menu, although I think a bar menu with more than peanuts would be a good addition. The menu is limited but done well, the staff are friendly and helpful, and it’s quite reasonably priced.

Breakfast (always a high point of any hotel stay) was excellent: hot and freshly cooked traditional ‘English’ selection (though it was missing black pudding, it did have good fresh mushrooms and tomatoes); fruits; porridge and overnight oats; cereal; continental meats and cheeses; pastries; toast and jams (Tiptree, of course) and juices. Coffee was generous and fresh, and they would probably have been horrified at the conversations the gang of 40 and 50 something ‘ladies’ were having over their bacon….

We’re already planning a return visit for some other significant birthdays that may be coming up next year…

Other things making me happy this week….

  1. A great night out with work colleagues at Draughts, where we played noisy board games and ate our way through the ‘Players Bundle’ menu. The Korean Fried Chicken bites were so good.
  2. Crochet, naturally. Still making tiny jumpers – now I am being asked to make them in football strips.
  3. Thing 1 is on the mend, and Thing 3 is in Wales with his aunty and our cousins enjoying his first rugby international.
  4. Working with Miriam on her social media posts. More writing!
  5. Sub-10 degrees swim in the lake this morning – still in skins, and according to Isla’s daughter we are ‘all maniacs!’.

This week I will be piloting new KS3 design sessions at a school in Ilford, making more stock for my stall, and dreaming of relaxation lounges.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

This Much is True – Miriam Margolyes

Don’t Need The Sunshine – John Osborne

Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes – Rob Wilkins (Audible)

Week fourteen: new jeans and sewing machines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on sewing machines…

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

Aunty Jo’s Samba 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Level up!

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

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

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

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

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

Moominmamma

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

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

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

Lots of dark blues in this panel!

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

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

V I Warshawski novels – Sara Paretsky

The Iron Hand of Mars – Lindsey Davis (Audible)