109: wake me up for tea

You find me at the end of a week off, in which I have done very little that was useful but a lot that was good for my soul: afternoon naps, long walks with friends, family and dogs, relaxed coffees, crafting, reading and a bit of cooking. My beloved claims that there is no such thing as a day off, but that is because he takes Monty Don’s ‘Jobs for the weekend’ section to heart as well as all the other things that a garden requires. I, on the other hand, am of the opinion that if you take a day off the jobs (and the garden) will still be there afterwards and the weeds probably won’t have taken over the world. Unless it’s sticky grass or wild garlic, in which case all bets are off.

On Sunday, post-blog, I met up with a friend in the wilds of Hackney to see Damien Jurado playing at EArtH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney), a gig which had been postponed at least once and possibly twice thanks to the pandemic but which was well worth the wait. Jurado plays small, interesting venues – we have seen him previously St John on Bethnal Green church, at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster and this time the venue was a reclaimed Art Deco cinema auditorium reached via a most unprepossessing doorway on Stoke Newington High Street. After a pint at the Brewdog bar a couple of doors along and up a few flights of stairs you arrive in the auditorium, which was locked up after the last film showed there in 1984 (Scarface, apparently) and left derelict while the rest of the building went through the usual ex-cinema permutations of snooker hall and community venue – not Bingo, for a change.

It’s a lovely space, still in need of a lot of restoration but the original Art Deco features remain and with simple bench seating and a wide stage the acoustics were wonderful. Add in an atmospheric setlist and good audience engagement and the result was a great evening. We particularly liked the young man at the end who begged for his favourite song, with plaintive pleases, and got his way – I liked the proper last song, too, with snatches of the Grateful Dead’s Morning Dew scattered through.

Damien Jurado (r) and Josh Gordon

On Wednesday my beloved and I dragged the Things out for a family walk. Thing 1 sulked all the way up the hill but was won over by the tiny calves in the field and the friendly pig – I think we all were, to be fair. We’ve been very lucky with the weather this week, and on Friday the garden was full of one of the Timeshare Teenagers and friends, painting henna tattoos on each other and recovering from what seemed to have been a pretty heavy night out. Other walks have been in the early morning, finishing with coffee and croissants at M’s house in the garden while fending off the muddy paws of Dobby and Kreacher, who assume all laps are for sitting. These are two rescue dogs, who are now so used to the sight of me that they have given up barking when I walk in to the house for D&D sessions. M and I also had a mooch around North Weald Market yesterday, where we marvelled at the sheer quantity of polyester neon on display, pondered the possibility of all the blingy pictures refracting sunlight and starting fires, and were bemused at the current fashion for wearing fluffy mule sliders out in public with socks.

Family walk – the return leg

I’ve also been messing around with making some very geeky earrings from D20s and meeples, am up to date on the Temperature Galaxy and ‘Travel by Tardis’ is halfway done. There’s half a simnel cake left (it was a most welcome apres-swim treat this morning!) and Thing 2 and I tried our hand at making macarons the other day as well. I did do some gardening, weeding the wild garlic out of my little patch and planting a couple of saxifraga and a Bleeding Heart. I can see the shoots of this year’s physalis coming up, hollyhocks are poking through, and I don’t seem to have killed the hydrangea so with any luck I’ll have a nice show this summer.

On Tuesday I am back to work, so I am off to top up my nap. I blame my father. I must also do my Easter bunny impression and distribute some eggs, as the natives are getting restless.

See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

In a Dry Season/Cold is the Grave/Aftermath/The Summer That Never Was/Playing With Fire/Strange Affair – Peter Robinson

Insidious Intent – Val McDermid

Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Novels vol 4 (Audible)

96: Everything louder than everything else

This week I was sad to hear that the incomparable Meat Loaf has died at the age of 74. London sister and I saw him at the O2 on the Last at Bat tour in 2013 and he was struggling then – the voice was going and he was using oxygen off stage, presumably to help with his asthma. It was still a great show – it was celebrating the Bat out of Hell anniversary, so interspersed with the songs were video interviews with Jim Steinman, ‘Mighty’ Max Weinberg and others. It was a memorable show but we were pretty sure we wouldn’t be seeing him live again.

While I wouldn’t say Mr Loaf was one of my all time favourite artists, he’s not far off – not just because of the the music but because of the memories that go with them. Dead Ringer for Love casts me back to the Nag’s Head in Monmouth, while Paradise by the Dashboard Light is a road trip favourite. All his songs – dramatic, not theatrical according to Meat Loaf in an interview with Terry Wogan in 1982 – are perfect for singing along to in kitchens, pubs and cars even when you are not a singer (like me). His style has been described as ‘blustery, wounded romantic-on-the-brink-of-a-breakdown’. Loud is the key – ‘everything louder than everything else’, in fact – and with passion, much like himself. Meat Loaf was larger than life himself – funny, personable, engaging, entertaining.

Primordial Radio were playing a lot of Meat Loaf yesterday while I was crafting and each song raised a smile. Many friends have shared their own favourite songs on social media, referencing pubs and old friends – recollections of VI form or college, in many cases. Could you ask for a better legacy as a singer? RIP, Marvin Lee ‘Meat Loaf’ Aday.

The rest of the week

Has been pretty much business as usual, to be honest – a trek to south Kensington, another one to Hackney Wick and a lot of meetings in between. My favourite geeky friend has her birthday today so yesterday I had fun making her gifts while singing along to the radio – a dice bag and a pair of earrings. I made mermaid scale ones and bat wing ones – using dolls house miniatures – and took a vote on which I should give to her. Her husband had already ordered the Lego bat ones! The dice bag has Lord of the Rings fabric with purple (her favourite colour).

My adorable nephew/godson is in a Harry Potter phase, so a snowy owl winged its way over to NI for his birthday this week, and the 9 and 3/4 cross stitch (with glow in the dark outline and Gryffindor colours backing) is off to Yorkshire.

Neon Pikachu is going slowly….black aida is a pain to work on but the colours look amazing.

This morning the lake was 2.5 degrees and the swimming lane was limited by sheets of ice – we lasted 10 minutes (most of which was getting in!). Madness but the mental reset is so worth it.

Mummy tummy and all. L-R – Isla, me, Sue, Jill. No Rachel!

See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Sapphire Manticore/The Golden Basilisk – Maria Andreas

Torchwood Tales (BBC Audio) – Audible

92: squelch squerch

This week my walking buddy Jill (cover photo artist!) and I have made the most of being off for Christmas and headed out ‘early doors’ (she’s from Yorkshire) for a couple of welly walks. We love our walks: we put the world to rights, appreciate the scenery, stomp on icy puddles and squish our way through the muddy ones. Some weeks she is grouchy, other weeks it’s me. We test out ideas for work or catastrophise in the knowledge that we can go into the office the next day with our heads back on straight. It’s like therapy. There’s something about walking next to someone, not facing them, that allows stress and those wake-you-up-at-3am thoughts to spill out.

Some days we go further than others: round the roads to Tawney Common, or across to Toot Hill, or round past Dial House and the farm to see the cows, or the old golf course and flood meadows. Sometimes it’s the short 5k through the woods and back, or to the end of the village. Whatever, I always come back feeling better and ready to face the week.

It was a week of extremes: one day it was -4°c and the world was white. The sun was coming up in spectacular fashion, the puddles were frozen and we crackled our way down to the farm and home via the station. The plan was to check what time the light fantastic train was running that day so we could drag the kids up to Marconi Bridge to watch it go through, but they were only doing the Santa Special till after Christmas. We allowed ourselves to be seduced by the smell of frying bacon from the station cafe and indulged in a bacon roll and tea, listening to the brass quartet playing Christmas carols and watching overexcited kids waiting for Santa’s train to arrive.

The following day was much warmer so the puddles were squelchy once more (as you can see from the cover photo). That day’s route took us through the fields to the radio station (hence Marconi Bridge) and past North Weald Redoubt, finishing up at Jill’s house for tea and a rummage through boxes of craft stuff from a friend’s house clearing. I was very good and only came home with a few balls of yarn and some toy eyes. My plan this week was to try and destash some craft things from the shed, not bring home more – I did send some yarn up to Jill’s mum, and got rid of a whole lot of jewellery making stuff, which was a start.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed at least a few days off and will be grabbing the opportunity for a Boxing Day welly walk – we have A, H and the grandchild over today, but I’m looking forward to a few more walks this week.

All can now be revealed…

As it’s after Christmas I can share the gifts I made – the wall hanging was for our Dungeonmaster and his wife and I made them open it while I was there playing board games on Monday. The ‘Eira Owls’ were for their daughters. The little pigs in granny square blankets have been ridiculously popular and I ended up making more than 20 of them as Christmas ‘cards’* for colleagues and my swimming buddies, and then as requests for people who’d seen them on Facebook. They’ve gone off to Wales, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and London. I still have several to do after Christmas but I have to get two presents out in January and a couple for February first!**

(* I don’t send cards to anyone but immediate family, but donate to a charity every year instead – this year it was the Trussell Trust. I make little decorations that can be brought out year after year – I love seeing people’s photos of their trees with my work on!)

(** Yes, I am taking orders. They are £6 each plus postage!)

I hope you’ve all had a great Christmas with family and friends, that you’re all safe and warm and looking forward to 2022. By the time next week’s post appears we’ll be in a whole new year!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Untold Story – Genevieve Cogman

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (Audible)

A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler

The Toast of Time – Jodi Taylor

The Long and the Short of it – Jodi Taylor (Audible)

88: 0/10, would not recommend

Well, that was a week of unparalleled misery, quite frankly – topped off by Thing 3 testing positive for Covid on Thursday. Thing 2 was off with the dreaded corona the week before last, I was knocked for six by labyrinthitis (which is not, sadly, a surfeit of David Bowie’s startling trousers) and now Thing 3. Enough already!

Labyrinthitis is a definite -1,000,000/10, do not recommend. It was so horrible I didn’t pick up a crochet hook for a week, or even a book for several days. That bad. NHS 111 recommended taking something called Buccastem, which is supposed to relieve nausea and vomiting related to migraine, and other people recommended Stugeron which made things infinitely worse. A tweet from a lovely museum person crediting my blog from a few weeks ago with making her feel reassured about her upcoming colposcopy made me cry, but so did the lovely Norwegian postal system’s Christmas advert celebrating 50 years since Norway decriminalised same-sex relationships.

Furry nurses are the best

It was Wednesday before I started feeling semi-human again, and Friday before I felt safe to go out of the house. My Beloved did a most excellent job with laundry and keeping the Horde alive, and the furry fiends did an excellent job of keeping me warm. Friends were amazing at relaying Thing 3 home from school, which at least we don’t need to worry about this week as he’ll be off with me isolating.

Lack of new output does, however, mean I can share a piece I finished a while ago but which only got handed over this week – despite the fact that I have seen Heather several times. We were supposed to have a ‘Grumpy People’s Supporters Club’ night out on Friday (well, they did, I stayed on the sofa watching Cowboy Bebop): the last time we saw each other all together was on the hen night back in June! The pattern can be found here and the seller was kind enough to offer to chart the names for me to personalise it as well. I’m told the bride liked it – she loves Art Deco and had a 1920s car to take her to the service, so it should be a good reminder of the day.

When I did manage to pick up a book again, it was with the intention of working through some of the digital shelf of shame on the Kindle – in the mood for something easy, I chose Colin Watson’s Flaxborough novels which were published between 1958 and 1982. Police procedurals which would probably be tagged with the awful ‘cosy mystery’ label these days, these are witty and terribly British, featuring the Viking-like Inspector Purbright and the eastern town of Flaxborough. I had three on my Kindle already and luckily the rest were cheap as I quickly got addicted.

Lying in bed unable to do anything meant I had a lot of time to do mental crafting, which is at least cheaper than the normal kind. I have a head full of ideas and no way to get to them, as my crafting space (OK, the dining room) is still full of stuff we haven’t put back after the heating was put in. My beloved has taken the opportunity to do small jobs upstairs while the place is already in chaos. I’m not saying I’m getting itchy fingers here but I have things that need making! Things 2 and 3 want new pants and there’s Christmas making to be done. This Hobbit Hole piece needs finishing, too: the pattern is by Vetlanka on Etsy. It’s been a while since I’ve worked on such a high count fabric, but the effect is so delicate.

I’ve taken the opportunity to set up a Facebook page for this blog as well, where I can sell the various bits and bobs I make that aren’t destined for gifts, at least from me. You’ll be able to find it here and I really need to take some photos to get things online! Watch this space.

Anyway, I must head off – there’s PCR tests to do and a book to get back to.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Speaking in Bones – Kathy Reich

Coffin, Scarcely Used / Bump in the Night / Hopjoy Was Here / Lonelyheart 4122 / Charity Ends at Home / The Flaxborough Crab / Broomsticks over Flaxborough / The Naked Nuns / One Man’s Meat Colin Watson (Flaxborough series)

85: is it that time already?

Every three years a letter drops through the door.

It’s from the NHS and it reminds me that it’s time for a smear test – this year I had to wait a month for an available appointment, as the nurse is pretty busy. I have lost count of the number of tests I’ve had over the years but I never miss them. These days they won’t give you a smear till you’re 25, but back then you were advised to get one a year after becoming sexually active. Seems silly to me as HPV and cancer don’t wait but there we are.

In my early twenties, a routine test showed abnormal cells so I had to go back in six months for another. By then there were a lot of those abnormal little cells and they were aggressive little beasts, it turned out. What followed was colposcopy, a loop biopsy and laser cauterisation (what’s that smell of burning? Why, it’s me!). Six monthly tests for the next few years, followed by annual tests for several more, and then when I was given the all clear it was back to three yearly. Had I not had that smear test, those abnormal cells would have escalated into cervical cancer – that’s the one that killed Jade Goody at 27, leaving two small boys growing up without a mum.

About half a million extra smear tests were done between mid-2008 when Goody was diagnosed and mid-2009 when she died, many for women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (source). Called ‘The Jade Goody Effect’, it didn’t last and in 2018 smear testing hit a 20-year low – the introduction of the HPV vaccine in 2008 for 12-13 year old girls (and boys) is making women complacent. The vaccine, given in two doses while girls are at school, helps protect against invasive cervical cancer as well as pre-cancerous cell changes. Covid-19 has increased ‘vaccine hesitancy’ and disrupted vaccination programmes but hopefully they’ll be getting back up to speed soon: Thing 2 should have her first jab this year and Thing 1 her second. Thing 3 will also be offered it as a boy in England and I’ll be making sure he gets it, as it prevents all sorts of other cancers in men as well as women. I had HPV: it caused the cell changes and like other viruses it lurks in the body and can come back. It’s often symptomless, so I had no idea until I was part of a study later on. As I started to write this blog the radio news broadcast told me that cervical cancer rates are 87% lower in women who have had the HPV vaccine. There’s lots of helpful, sensible information on cervical cancer, smear tests, the vaccine and more here.

Smear tests are not fun. They can be uncomfortable. They’re undignified. Some strange person rummaging around ‘down there’ is never going to be the most fun five minutes of your life – but it is only five minutes, and then hopefully you’re done with it for another few years. If they catch a few cells misbehaving, then they can deal with them quickly – but if you don’t go, they won’t find them. They’ll offer you a chaperone if you want one, and a sheet to cover yourself with. My top tip is to wear something with a skirt, but believe me: those nurses have seen pretty much everything over the years and whatever you’ve got going on its all in a day’s work to them. You can also be glad of plastic speculums, because the metal ones were horrible even if you had a nice nurse who warmed it up under the hot tap.

I make jokes to relax, and chat to the nurse – this year the fact that I had to wear a mask during the test made me laugh, it seemed so ridiculous. If you’re worried, take your mum. Take your sister. Take a friend – hell, take two or three, make consecutive appointments and go for cocktails afterwards to reward yourselves for being both sensible and brave. You can go to your GP surgery or your local sexual health clinic, they’re free here in the UK and those five minutes might quite literally save your life. You don’t get a lollipop or a sticker afterwards (maybe we should start a campaign?) but you do get a letter in the post a few weeks later with your results.

However and wherever you do it – just do it, and keep doing it whenever they remind you. It’s worth it, I promise.

Birthday presents!

September, October and November are busy months for birthdays – especially when you’re still working remotely! I’ve been late with a few and some have been late collecting their presents but I’m all caught up now and there’s no more birthdays till next year! Secret Santa and a leaving gift are next up, followed by Christmas.

I also made a Totoro amigurumi, which has led to another one – as long as it doesn’t turn into the tinycorn plague all over again (27 of them…) it’ll be fine.

Design by Lucy Ravenscar

And this week I am gearing up for Museum Takeover Day – in the absence of a museum, we’re doing it inside out and taking over our local primary school. I keep telling myself it’s going to be all right on the night…otherwise I’m going to go full Macauley Culkin in Home Alone…

See you on the flipside! Mine will be a large G&T.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Dreams Underfoot/Tapping the Dream Tree/Muse and Reverie – Charles de Lint

Windswept and Interesting – Billy Connolly (Audible)

83: where the hell are all the teaspoons?

…and other such middle aged concerns.

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

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

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

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

(*no, sweetie, you’re stuck with us)

Sewing b*&!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

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

82: thinking like designers – or possibly chickens

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

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

Photo and chickens courtesy of Chinami Sakai

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

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

The materials the children were given

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile…

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

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

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

Comet in Moominland – Tove Jansson (Audible)

81: it’s showtime!

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

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

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

‘I do believe we are muted’ – Philippa Moggridge

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

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

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

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

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

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

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

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

78: speaking as a ‘nice to have’…

Back in 1999, when I was still a Tower Hamlets primary school teacher, I taught a year 3 class. It was a typical class, with the full range of abilities from ridiculously bright to identified levels of SEND. It being Tower Hamlets, the intake was both socially and culturally very diverse, with the usual levels of kids on free school meals, in social housing, etc. This was in the glory days of ‘education, education, education’, as Tony Blair would have it: I didn’t agree with a lot of his policies but that one I could get right behind.

One child in my class was B, a very sweet boy who these days would probably have been identified as having ADD. I tell a lot of trainee teachers about B when I am talking about the importance of museum visits, and the need to offer children a range of learning activities to meet different styles of learning. His cartoon equivalent would be The Simpsons’ Ralph Wiggum: I was never sure how much of what happened in the classroom actually went in and he was a by-word for vague in the staffroom.

Like most year 3 classes, we covered Invaders and Settlers – Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, and during the Romans topic I organised a trip to the Museum of London for an object handling session. These school trips are so important: yes, they are ‘nice to haves’ but they are also the experiences which build cultural capital for children, and what I like to call London capital. London, especially diverse and poor areas, is not a city but a connected group of small villages. People tend to stay hyperlocal, and museums are often not on a family’s agenda: a day out costs money, even when museums are free, and there is often a feeling that a museum is ‘not for them’ (that’s another rant for another day). School visits help children experience the tube, the museum, social norms and more – it’s never just about the workshop. This is particularly important with families where the children have English as an additional language, and the parents may not have any English at all.

Anyway, back to B and the handling workshop. The facilitator held up an object – a wax tablet and stylus, in fact – and asked the children if they knew what it was. My class looked at him as if they’d never even heard of Romans…. except B, who put his hand up. I braced myself for a Wiggum-style non sequitur and out of his mouth came an explanation of what the object was, how it was used and re-used, and the name of the writing implement. My jaw dropped. 29 children’s jaws dropped. And he flew for the rest of the session. He knew what things were, he was confident in sharing his knowledge, and I went away with an entirely new view of one small child. I’m not saying that the effect lasted for ever – but we had seen hidden depths and I made sure that object-based learning made more frequent appearances in the classroom.

These visits and other experiences are ‘nice to haves’, yes, but they also provide key learning experiences for children who are not auditory or visual learners. It would be nice to think that teachers could just talk at children for 13 years and they would leave school knowing all the things they need to know, but for many children that isn’t the case. They need these ‘nice to haves’ to embed their learning and to help them connect understanding and knowledge. There have been so many occasions since I left the classroom and became a museum educator where I have seen the same thing happen to other teachers: a floodgate opens in a child’s mind when the connection is made, and both teacher and learner go away with a new understanding.

This week, for example, a child with autism focused for longer than he’s ever focused before on one thing: building with the blue blocks. Over three days this week we saw every class in a primary school, working on coding, creativity and collaboration and giving children a chance for some physical play, some kinaesthetic learning. The headteacher came to see us on our last day and said that so many parents had come to her and said their children hadn’t stopped talking about their session when usually they answer ‘dunno’ or ‘can’t remember’ to the ‘what did you do today?’ question. Teachers had also raved, and would we come to their other school as well please. These sessions were a ‘nice to have’ too, as are those days when companies like Time Steps or History off the Page come into school and your kids spend the day immersed in history and come home with peg dolls or Stone Age bread.

You may well wonder what’s brought this on. Read on…

This week, Google offered up this article for my reading pleasure. I’m quite sure that inciting me to fury probably wasn’t its intention, but that was the result. The article was about how schools would tackle the issue of ‘catch up’ following last year’s closures. It talked about schools focusing on the poorest pupils, ensuring they had food (gasp!) and ‘going out visiting’ (ditto!). Apparently this meant that they weren’t providing an education offer for all children. It was acknowledged that private schools had three times as much money than state, which was nice to know if not really much of a revelation.

Who knew that children might need to eat? Who knew that their families might need to eat? Who might have suspected that the poorest families, who rely on school dinners to ensure that their kids are guaranteed a hot meal every day, might need pastoral support – especially when dealing with a government who were prepared not to feed these kids in the holidays? When their parents, if they were working at all, were furloughed on 80% of a minimum wage that wasn’t enough to live on anyway? She didn’t mention digital poverty, which meant many of these children were trying to work on their parents’ phones, or the problems with getting laptops to these children, or unreliable/non-existent broadband. I have sung the praises of Marcus Rashford before – although I haven’t mentioned Maro Itoje who campaigned for children to have access to laptops and the internet during Covid. (Gavin Williamson, the mercifully-now-ex Education Secretary, managed to confuse the two earlier this month.)

Selfishly, though – speaking as a career ‘nice to have’ – that wasn’t even the paragraph that made me most angry. It made me pretty angry, because – working in Tower Hamlets – I believe that schools made the right decision and the wellbeing of their pupils absolutely should have been their priority, especially at the beginning of lockdown. None of us had a crystal ball and could not have known that we’d still be doing lockdown learning a year later.

No, this was the one that really got me: “‘Nice to have’ things could be cut out for worst-hit pupils” to ensure that pupils are ‘catching up’.

Apparently, most catch-up would take place in pupils’ “main classrooms with their normal teachers”. They referred to a “sort of everyday magic that teachers do of really motivating children to want to learn and introducing them to the whole curriculum, taking them through in a well structured way with the minimal wastage of time…There are experiences, ‘nice to have’ things that are often built into curricular, and I suspect a lot of those will get cut out for the children who have missed the most.”

The comments follow guidance which warned that “time is not infinite and so, alongside identifying what content from missed topics should be prioritised, careful consideration must also be given to choices of teaching activity”. “Do the pupils who spend a lesson on the Egyptians wrapping their friend in toilet roll remember the details of Egyptian religious beliefs, or do they just remember the fun activity,” the guidance said.

Well, speaking from experience, I am pretty sure they remember both….because the practical activity embeds the learning into their brains. Learning is supposed to be fun. The teachers you remember decades later (for good reasons) are the ones who made lessons memorable, and not the ones who treated you as vessels to be filled with knowledge. I think if we take away the ‘nice to haves’ we run the risk of not a lost generation of learners but a disengaged generation of non-learners. There is no one size fits all, which teachers have known for years.

Speaking as a kinaesthetic learner…

I like to keep my hands busy, as you know – and apparently so does the person who said all the things above. She knits through meetings as it helps her focus. I do wonder sometimes what goes on in people’s heads.

Anyway…as well as finishing the socks I have been working on for ages, I started a dragon scale dice bag (and then started it again when I realised I’d done it upside down) I also made these pouches which can be used for jewellery, shiny rocks, dice, sewing kits and more. They have little compartments and again were made of fabric leftovers.

The blue one is from a tutorial by Wandering Hare on Etsy and the patchwork one is from a free tutorial by Serendipity Studios, found here. Both very similar, but the second one has a padded bottom which will keep your preciouses safe from knocks!

That’s it from me then – see you next week! There’s a bacon sandwich with my name on it….

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Unseen Academicals/Going Postal/Making Money – Terry Pratchett

Thief of Time/Wyrd Sisters – Terry Pratchett (Audible)

76: back to school

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

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

Tim Westfield! Westwood. WestWOOD. Not field.

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

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

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

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

Making and doing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Soul Music/Sourcery – Terry Pratchett

Thief of Time – Terry Pratchett (Audible)