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)

73: constructing a history mystery

Previously on What Kirsty Did Next…

The pattern Irish Sister (let’s call her Steph, as it’s her name) and I chose over a Zoom call was the Cordelia skirt from Wearing History. These Resto-Vival™ Patterns are original historic patterns that have been restored and revived, and have had pattern markings and sizings added that the modern sewer is used to seeing rather than the basic perforations that were common in early sewing patterns. While making this I was watching the Great British Sewing Bee’s early series, and I had a lot of sympathy for the sewers encountering their first 1930s pattern! We chose to make the skirt in street-length (with no train) and in a plain grey cotton sateen from Ray Stitch which I thought would have the drape and weight needed for the shape we were after. Ray Stitch offers a thread matching service, which we took advantage of, as I wasn’t sure if I’d have the right grey in my stash. We also needed ‘belting’ which turned out to be grosgrain ribbon.

Steph sent me the measurements we needed, and as she fell between sizes we chose to go slightly larger for breathing purposes, and so she could wear the correct historical layers underneath if needed. She – like me – is not blessed with great height and this is a skirt that runs long, so I had to redraft the length and then the back: the shortening had to be done at about thigh length, rather than from the bottom. As so much length was lost I was able to cut out the skirt on the cross-grain, which meant I didn’t have to piece the fabric. The original skirt was made from one piece of fabric, seamed up the back and given shape through waist darts where the side seams would sit and further darts in the belting.

How straightforward, I thought! What was I worried about?

And then I realised it called for dress weights, which I had never used before although Google tells me they are still popular with various royals who need to maintain their dignity while getting off aeroplanes in windy places. Hurray for Google, eh? Neither were there any instructions for fastening the skirt, or indeed many for making the skirt up, despite it being only one seam and some darts. Basically: sew darts, sew skirt together, add the belt.

A quick message via Etsy to the very helpful Lauren, owner of Wearing History, solved the fastening question: she added a placket with snaps and a hook and eye. After consultation with Steph we decided we could get away with adding a zip as they were invented in 1913 and the character she will be playing on film is from 1921 (the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland). I went for an invisible zip, as it should also be hidden by her middy blouse. Originally I put it in properly, but then I had to take it out as the skirt needed to be taken in after finishing it, so then went back to my much quicker method. The pattern weights were more of an issue as I tacked them in but they didn’t want to stay tacked. Every time I shook out the skirt they fell off. I didn’t want to fix them in permanently in case Steph didn’t feel they were necessary!

For once I was good and tacked the waistband in before stitching it down – I am not a tacker usually, as I am a lazy sewer and prefer pins. I’m glad I did, as I had to adjust some width out of the waist after I’d tacked it in. My dressmaking mannequin, known as Lucy, came in very handy this week for measuring as well as for keeping in progress pieces on!

Here is the finished skirt – I think it turned out OK, and it’s in the post to NI already. I just hope it fits…

I also packed off a pair of historic pockets – I have been obsessed with making these this week. The pattern is by Hamblemouse, who is starting a pocket revolution inspired by the parlous state of pockets in women’s clothing. I love adding pockets to things, so the idea of pockets that you can just add to whatever you’re wearing is genius. Women used to wear these under their clothing, and then handbags came along – but what if you need your hands free? There’s an excellent history of pockets on the site if you’re interested – I love the idea of keeping gin and kittens in them, frankly.

I started with a couple of sets made from leftovers from other projects, and then I got overexcited and used some leftover jelly roll strips to make some single ones, which might be the most gorgeous things I have ever made. They look like sunsets and they are perfectly pressed (for a change). These are too lovely to hide, and I may make them for every conservator I know for keeping useful things (and gin and kittens) in.

I’ve also made a cross-back apron, using this fabulous free pattern and tutorial from Hey June Handmade – a colleague was wearing a calico one for a workshop last weekend and it reminded me that I had wanted to make one. Toast have one for sale for £69 – mine was made from denim leftovers and bound with home-made bias binding left over from a quilt last year. The leftovers are from the Morgan jeans I cut out weeks ago and started making this week – all done apart from buttons and rivets, as I discovered I had run out of jeans buttons.

Seven years ago I cut out a pile of Japanese knot bags, made one for a teacher gift for Thing 2’s Year 1 teacher, half finished a couple of others and then left the rest. These are also handy small bags that slip on your wrist, so I have FINALLY finished them this week (every year I have got them out and added them to the to-do pile, and every year I have put them away again…).

My final make of my week off was a dress, using the Ariana midi dress pattern from Sew Magazine – a free template download of a buffet-style dress. I used some lovely star print fabric (at least, it was lovely till I started trying to cut it) that I bought last year – I’d been going to make an Anna dress with it but it’s too fine. The bodice is lined with plain black polycotton sheeting, and for some reason the pattern calls for a lined bodice and a facing. I left out the lining fabric facing as it was totally unnecessary. Much cursing was done over the gathering of the tiered skirt – I think I should just be grateful it was only two tiers – as well as over the bodice instructions. It’s turned out OK but is definitely a maxi rather than a midi – I should have taken a few inches out of the first tier, I think. If I make it again…. oh, who am I kidding? I’m never doing that bodice again.

My last sewing job this week has been to go to a friend’s house and help get their daughter started with patchwork – she had a sewing machine for Christmas and what with Covid etc it’s taken a while to get round to the promised lesson! I started with straight line sewing on paper and then we made a simple nine-patch block, which hopefully will get her going!

Tomorrow I am back to work so the sewing machine will be getting a rest! I have two blouses cut out, from a favourite Simple Sew pattern, but they can wait….

See you next week! I have to start thinking about school uniform soon, and the annual trauma of the school shoes….

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness – Bill Bailey

Lost for Words – Stephanie Butland

From the Shelf of Shame:

Addlands – Tom Bullough

Meadowland – John Lewis-Stempel

72: it’s not goodbye, it’s au revoir

This week I have not done a lot, really – work, read, enough stitching and crocheting to make my arm and shoulder ache, watched a lot of films (with Jason Statham in, for some reason – not my choice) and fed a lot of children.

I did go out on Wednesday: to give blood (donation 24! The things I do for a mint Club) and then into Bethnal Green where we said goodbye to the old Museum of Childhood before the base builders etc move in for the next couple of years. It was a quiet goodbye, with a lot of faces missing from the team I joined four years ago: a few through natural career progression but more thanks to the many restructures that we have been through in that time. I also ate at Chiringuito in Bethnal Green for the first time (fish tacos) and learned more about flying ants than I ever thought I needed to know. This is what comes of working in museums, where we acquire random bits of information through being incurably curious about pretty much everything. Top tip for you people out there – curators and other museum people are good to have on pub quiz teams*.

Photo by Helena Rice

For the next two years we are wandering souls, washing up in small groups in corners of the V&A at South Kensington, clutching our laptops and wondering where we left our pen last week. 40% of our time is ‘on-site’ at the moment, though for the learning team that time is currently out and about with our blue blocks, which is great fun even in the rain. (I am writing this on Saturday morning, by the way, as tomorrow I will be out with the team all day at The Get Together in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park).

This seems to be a fairly normal work pattern right now, as far as I can tell. Hybrid working, blended working, whatever you want to call it, seems to be here to stay, certainly in the non-people-facing jobs. It’s good not to have to commute all the time, and platforms like Teams and Zoom are making it easier to stay in touch with colleagues, but I do miss the spontaneous Friday lunches and the kitchen chats, or feeding the ducks on a lunchtime walk. It’s too easy when working at home to not have those social moments. In ‘normal’ times you spend 36 hours a week with your colleagues, and if you have good ones (I do) they become your work family. I miss the kettle moments (water cooler moments, presumably, in those nations less reliant on tea for functioning), team problem solving in the office (gang, have you got a minute?), people popping in and out to raid the biscuit tin. Our office was the home of the biscuit tin, which meant we knew what was going on on the floor as people came in for Oreos and hugs. Mostly I just miss people!

*However, a whole quiz night made up only of museum people is a terrifying experience. If you are the quizmaster/mistress, be very very sure that your answers are correct, or the likelihood of a dawn duel with historically accurate weaponry is high. You have been warned.

Why my arm aches…

This week I started the shawl pictured here – the Build Your Own Beehive Shawl CAL by Fleabubs and Lala. I did not need another project, but this was such a pretty pattern and I already had the yarn sooooo…. the yarn is Stylecraft Batik Swirl in the Rainbow colourway. The shawl is made up of ten-row repeats of three different stitches – trellis, pollen and honeycomb. It feels a bit more scarfy than shawly to me at the moment, despite increasing the starting chain from 60 to 80, but my friend Ruth who pattern tested it says it pays for blocking. I hope so – when it comes to scarves and shawls I definitely lean towards the dramatic swish and swirl rather than the single wrap! Perhaps this is what comes of working in historic buildings, where ‘work blankets’ are definitely a thing in the winter.

I’ve also made progress on the Hobbit Hole – only the lettering to go now, which is exciting, and then I need to frame it and find it a home.

I am off work next week. About half an hour after booking the time off, Irish sister messaged me…

How could I resist? So this week I’ll be making a skirt for a 1921 schoolmistress, using a historic pattern that is very light on instructions. That’s the problem I have found with vintage patterns: the publishers assumed that all women had been taught the basics of sewing and garment construction and knitting and crochet, either by their mother or in school. That’s not the case these days, sadly, so this week will be a learning curve all round!

I am off now, as we are going to see Timeshare 1 and the grandson shortly. See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Lost Tribes of Pop – Tom Cox

Stardust – Neil Gaiman (Audible)

From the shelf of shame….

Jigs and Reels – Joanne Harris

Holy Fools – Joanne Harris

Meadowland – John Lewis-Stempel

71: rain did not stop play

This week has felt almost normal: two days of delivery and a day in the office, drinks with colleagues on Wednesday and a noisy evening in a pub on Friday night. Never mind that one of those days of delivery was outdoors, with sessions bracketed (but not cancelled) by torrential downpours – we were doing our job, the reason we went into learning in the first place. I did have to wring out the bottom half of my dress while I was wearing it, as we cleaned 100 or so pieces of play equipment under a shelter made pointless by the rising waters and the horizontal rain, but there we are. We had a great day! It was noisy, joyful and inspiring.

British summertime…

I have mentioned the Imagination Playground Big Blue Blocks we are using before: it’s quite well-known and is used all over the world. We also have a kit designed by CO-DB which can be used to create pop-up spaces for craft workshops and more, and we had some of those pieces with us as well. As soon as we started to put out wooden structures we were surrounded by children who had some very firm ideas about how they thought it should be set out: they wanted to build a house, and when there weren’t enough pieces they collected other objects from around the playground to make their creation. They carried across tables and chairs, a giant Connect-4 game, and PE equipment. The house was initiated by a couple of small boys and others soon joined in, bringing their own ideas to the game.

My role that day was supporting our Informal Learning producer. Later in the day we were joined by an artist, Matt Shaw, who has been commissioned to create a ‘plus’ set to add to the Blue Blocks – he brought some rolls of corrugated card with him, some cut up plastic pipes and connectors and large pieces of fabric, to see how they added to the play. The Theory of Loose Parts is behind this. We introduced those about halfway through each session, when the children were evaluating their creations to see how they could add or improve them – something they did independently, rather than directed by us.

It was an interesting day: we had children ranging from Early Years to young teens, and we were presenting them all with exactly the same base equipment. We wondered whether the older ones would engage with the blue blocks or if they’d think they were too babyish for them, but we were surprised by how much they enjoyed it. All the sessions started with free play so they could see how the blocks worked together and could be connected, and then we threw in a challenge to finish off. Often this was to make the tallest structure they could, which they then enjoyed knocking down. Matt’s fabric was used to create dens and sails, and some ripstop fabric lengths became roofs for a shelter built by a team of girls called ‘the prime house’ because it was all primary colours. We asked one group to design and build a way to cross a river, so we saw some great bridges: we’d tested this with schools in early July.

The free play was interesting, as every age group made some kind of fitness equipment, often from a starting point of a dumbbell made from a noodle shape and two round pieces. The oldest group made theirs very elaborate, with a bench press and a leg machine, while the younger ones were more basic. Most groups made a marble run: if two sets of children started making one and discovered there weren’t enough pieces, we encouraged them to team up and create one large one. It was brilliant to watch them testing angles to make sure the ball would move smoothly, tweaking things to ensure it didn’t fly off, and solving problems together. The activity brought children together: this was a council play scheme which had only been open a couple of days, with children from all over the borough. Many had never met before that week, and the blue block activity got them talking to each other for the first time, according to the adults.

Of all the loose parts the children chose to add to their creations, the most popular were a set of marker cones which had been left in the playground – so much so that we will be adding them to our own kit for other events. They became decoration for houses, stoppers on the marble run, wheels, eyes and more. So simple that we wouldn’t have thought of them ourselves, but every group added them in to their creations. They also enlivened the Blue Blocks, which are otherwise just – well – blue.

The idea behind our participation in this playscheme, the school sessions I have mentioned in previous episodes, play streets and festivals is to support creativity and the skills that creativity builds: confidence, communication, collaboration and more (yes, they all begin with C) and I think we saw that in spades this week.

My other delivery day was at Spotlight, an amazing youth space in Tower Hamlets where I was supporting our Creative Producer. This was part of a local transition Summer School for Year 6s going into Year 7, and were working with School of Noise who run workshops encouraging the exploration of music and the science of sound. I learned loads – about how sound travels, chladni plates, about making sound effects and more. The students were really engaged too, and were amazed at how the sounds they could make with their bodies could create music. We tried some Foley in the afternoon, making the sound of fire with bubble wrap, tin foil and a plastic shopping bag, and we saw this video which left us in awe of Foley artists. I have had some strange requests from my Foley artist neighbour over the years but this video really put them into context.

Just having these days with the team in real life, and Friday in the office at South Kensington, reminded me why I love my job and the people I work with. We went out on Friday night to the Zetland Arms in South Ken to say a goodbye to our wonderful director. I saw people I had previously only met on Teams calls, and others I hadn’t seen since before lockdown – it made the ludicrously expensive G&Ts worthwhile. (Lovely director has just messaged me to say thank you for the letter and crocheted angel I handed her on Friday night – when she arrived two years ago we had just been through a horrible restructure and we found guardian angels on our desks waiting for us, so it seemed right to send her off with one too!)

And now it’s August. How did that happen?

Biscuit, anyone?

All this travelling on tubes has meant that I could spend some serious time crocheting daft things – more jammy dodgers, in fact. Here’s eight I made on the tube – there would have been nine, except a small girl was entranced by what I was doing so I gave her a finished one. I think it made her day. These are very satisfying to make, as other than weaving in the ends there is no construction: you join as you go. They will either end up as brooches or tree decorations – these are made with the 2mm hook, rather than the larger one, so the stitches are tighter.

The background is, of course, the Hobbit Hole – I am now onto the bottom half and will be starting a new page this evening. And now I am off to do some other sewing. I should be constructing jeans but I have a PDF that needs sticking together for a dress, so let’s see how far I get!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

The Shadow Wing (Crow Investigations) – Sarah Painter

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (Audible)

From the shelf of shame:

Bring me the head of Sergio Garcia – Tom Cox

Jigs and Reels – Joanne Harris

70: I promise you, you’ll love it

Sometimes you get handed a book, or a recommendation for a book, that a friend or family member has loved and you read it….and it’s okay. It’s not life changing, and you probably wouldn’t say it’s great, but it’s readable. There have been many books like that- and that’s fine, because there’s a lot of different authors and tastes in the world and as Terry Pratchett says many times it would be a funny old world if we were all alike.

Sometimes the book is so terrible you question why you’re so fond of that person.

Sometimes you recommend a book that you have absolutely loved to people you like and they think it’s….okay. Not life changing, not great but…okay. I find it’s best not to take these things personally as clearly those people are wrong, or just need to read it again properly, or aren’t in their right minds.

Sometimes a book has rave reviews, and/or a massive marketing budget, and shoots up the bestseller lists, and films are made of them starring people who you may or may not have heard of, and that’s fine too. Sometimes these are good books and terrible films, sometimes these are terrible books and okay films. Sometimes they are terrible books and you can’t bring yourself to watch the film.

Sometimes – just sometimes – you get given a book and it’s wonderful: it keeps you awake long after your bedtime and stays with you so you can’t wait to pick it back up in the morning. This can be for many reasons: the adventure, the need to know what happens next, the lyricalness of the writing, My recent read ‘Once upon a River’ by Diane Setterfield was one of these books. Others include:

  • Boy’s Life – Robert McCammon
  • Hearts in Atlantis and The Body – Stephen King
  • The Once and Future King – T.H. White
  • The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Stardust – Neil Gaiman
  • The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hiro Arikawa
  • Ring the Hill – Tom Cox
  • The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Nieffenegger

This week I have added another one to the list – a birthday gift from my colleagues but I detect the hand of my wild swimming colleague in this one. Wild Woman Swimming by Lynne Roper, which is a journal kept over five years of wild swimming in West Country waters. It’s a poignant read: Roper took up wild swimming after a double mastectomy and built a community of swimmers around her, as well as becoming a key member of the Outdoor Swimming Society. Sadly she died five years later of a brain tumour, but she filled those five years with adventure and wrote about them in exquisite, immersive prose. I’ll be recommending this one to friends, but I might not lend them my copy….

There may be many more of these magical books on my shelves of shame, or lurking on my Kindle, and I really ought to get round to reading them. I always swear I won’t buy any more books until I have finished the ones I have (I know, I laugh too) and then the BookBub daily email comes in, or I find something wonderful in a charity shop, or someone recommends a book they have loved and suddenly there’s a new addition. Perhaps I need to make a reading resolution that every other book I read is one from the shelf…. that sounds more realistic, at least!

In the meantime, if I promise not to buy them, will you tell me which are your favourite books to recommend to people?

Trial and error, error, error

You would think that if you have sewed a neckband onto something the wrong way up that it would be a straightforward job to unpick it and put it on the correct way. This was not the case with the blouse hack of the McCalls 8104 dress, which I had to unpick three times before I worked out which way was the right way, and which bits I’d sewed together wrong in the first place. I also managed to sew the bodice and lower bodice pieces together upside down when I started it on Monday, so I am amazed I got it finished at all.

The lovely turquoise cotton fabric is from Higgs and Higgs, and I bought it with my birthday Amazon vouchers – I love the statement sleeves and the slightly fitted waist on it, and the fact that there isn’t a standing collar. I’m not sure what it is with sewing patterns, but every collar I have made is just too seventies – indie or big four, it’s a bit of an issue. I shall just have to learn how to redraft them.

In the name of sorting out my shed I have gone through the hundreds of sewing patterns (mainly free magazine gifts) with a view to handing them over to a friend who has just qualified as a DT teacher – if she doesn’t want them herself she can donate them to school! My August resolution is to have a good tidy up in the shed and donate anything I really won’t use to people who will make good use of them. Things 1 and 2 have just had their ears pierced, so Thing 2 has been making earrings and jewellery with one of her friends which is making a dent in the stash already!

I haven’t done a lot else, really – my sourdough starter has been in heavy use this week as Thing 3 has decided he really likes the bread, and with the discard I have made pizza (always a hit) and cinnamon rolls which were soft and delicious. I’ll definitely be making those again!

So that’s my week! I’ll be off now to do a bit of reading over lunch and then start constructing the jeans I cut out last week….

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Wild Woman Swimming – Lynne Roper

Raising Steam/The Truth – Terry Pratchett

How to Sew Sustainably – Wendy Ward

The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook – Susan Briscoe

Visible Mending – Arounna Khounnoraj

Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee (Audible)

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (Audible)

69: yes, but can you play on it?

This week I have mostly been in my house, having been ‘pinged’ by a (double vaccinated) friend I saw last weekend: I did leave the house on Friday as Thing 3 had to go back to school but by that point I’d done four lateral flow tests and a PCR and all of them came back negative. I find it quite unbelievable that so-called ‘Freedom Day’ is going ahead tomorrow, when cases are shooting up again and school bubbles are bursting on a daily basis. Herd immunity by vaccination isn’t working as you can clearly still catch the virus. Herd immunity like some kind of national chicken pox party seems to me a rather irresponsible idea. Passing responsibility from the government to the people to keep themselves safe seems pretty idiotic also, especially when some of these people being given that responsibility require bloody great posters on public transport explaining how to wear a mask properly.

 © TfL

One of the pluses of being at home has been the opportunity to attend – if only virtually – courses, conferences and seminars that would otherwise be out of reach: those in Australia and America, for example, but also those closer to home but at a tricky time e.g ones that happen while the Things are claiming they are about to actually die of starvation, Mum, die! Like this weeks Crafts magazine event on “Space for play: how can makers bring joy back to our cities?” (Disclaimer: I was given a free ticket for this, as a bonus of attending the CPD I wrote about last week). Thank you to Thing Two, who with assistance from Thing One made delicious gnocchi for the family dinner that night.

Featuring architects, artists and playworkers, this was a really interesting discussion around public art as play space and why it’s a good idea to commission these rather than anchoring a lot of off-the-shelf play equipment in a fenced-off square. Penny Smith of Assemble Play pointed out that playgrounds like these were invaluable when we needed to build a workforce of people with physical strength and co-ordination – but are less useful now, in the 21st century, when employers value creativity, collaboration and problem-solving skills over more traditional needs. Risa Puno, an American interactive installation/sculpture artist, spoke about the need to build spaces that connect people to each other. Hadrian Garrard of Create London, an organisation that commissions public art and architecture, explained why they brought in artists to build these spaces. Artists research a space, work with the local community to find out what they think a space needs, and explore materiality. Higham Hill Theatre, by vPPR, is great for this: a community amphitheatre which joins up the cafe and the play area. This was commissioned as part of Waltham Forest’s ‘Making Places’ scheme.

vPPR selected the site because it was a forgotten parcel of the park, used for anti-social behaviour. By re-activating the site, and creating links to the park amenities, the place is transformed into a site of creativity and play.

vPPR

As Risa Puno says, you never know how people will interact with a space or an installation, so you need to make something that people can explore on their own terms. The Diana Memorial Fountain, never envisaged as a play space, is a prime example of this: once it became clear that people were going to use it as a paddling play area, it had to be made safe to do so. Why not build in play from the start?

In the panel discussion at the end, the speakers were asked where they most enjoyed playing as children: outdoors was usually the answer. Several of the speakers had grown up in rural areas, and talked about fields and woods, which reminded me of my own play spaces.

When we moved to Raglan, I was just seven and only a few houses in our road had been finished: there was a building site opposite the house with no fencing (imagine!) and a meadow next door but one, and for a child whose outdoor boundaries had previously been a couple of lamp posts, this was magical. Piles of brick dust and sand (brick dust does not come out of socks), bulldozers, foundations and scaffolding: this was an adventure playground when the builders had left for the weekend. In the meadow, there was a cave of trees and a stream with very shallow banks and we played for hours in this space. There were tiny fish in the stream and water snails to be caught, archaeological discoveries to be made, wildlife like slow worms and grass snakes in the long grass, and all within metres of the front door. That’s not to mention the castle at the top of the hill and the fields around it, all of which were within ten minutes of home. There was a play park at the other end of the village, which was fun, but once you’ve been on the swings and that mad Wicksteed rocking horse, what else was there to do? So we exercised our imaginations and explored the world, and made discoveries and generally entertained ourselves.

I’m glad we are bringing up the Horde in a space where there are trees to climb and woods to explore, though they don’t have the freedom that I did as a child which is sad but a sign of the times. Walks – when we can convince them to leave the house! – can take hours, and that’s fine by me.

The sun has got his hat on

Summer is putting in one of its brief appearances at the moment, so I have had a couple of happy post-work hours in the garden during isolation. As well as the gnocchi, Thing Two is turning out an excellent G&T with fresh raspberries and strawberries, which was a perfect Friday afternoon treat.

A perfect post-work moment

I had a day off on Friday and spent it cutting out a pair of Morgan jeans, an Anna dress and a blouse hack from this month’s Love Sewing magazine free pattern. Yesterday morning I put the Anna dress together: it was supposed to be the maxi length but where I’d extended the arms on the bodice I didn’t have quite enough fabric so ended up with the midi. The fabric is from last summer – Pound a Metre, I think – and is a light polycotton. I made my first Anna dress last year and it’s become my go-to throw on this summer, so a new version was definitely in order. I managed to jam my overlocker in the process, so I think it’s going to need a trip to to the sewing machine doctor if I can’t work out what the problem is myself!

The Morgan jeans are also a remake of one from last summer, as they have become a wardrobe staple – boyfriend cut and cropped, they are so comfortable. I bought some black lightweight denim from Amazon with my birthday vouchers, so will hopefully get to those tomorrow at some point.

I’ve been crocheting with cotton this week – it’s too hot for anything else! One of my lovely birthday gifts from my colleagues was a gorgeous hand painted flower pot from DOMIcafe on Etsy – not having the greenest of fingers, as my hydrangeas would testify if I hadn’t killed them all, I decided I’d make a crochet cactus to go in it instead. I used Scheepjes Catona from the stash, and this pattern for a round barrel cactus by Zoe Bartley on Ravelry. It only took a couple of hours, and I love it.

I also whipped up a crochet jammie dodger, because why not? The top one is with a 3mm hook, the bottom is with 2.5mm and I think I prefer that one.

So that’s been my week: I’ll be released back into the wild on Wednesday, just in time for the summer holidays!

See you next week for week 70!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Night Watch, Thud!, Snuff, Raising Steam – Terry Pratchett

Listening: The Socially Distant Sports Bar. (Not to be listened to on public transport as you will become that person sniggering in a corner, in front of children, or in earshot of the easily shocked)

68: Rage against….pretty much everything

Hot flushes, night sweats, the need to carry tweezers with you at all times, difficulty sleeping, problems with memory and concentration….just some of the symptoms of perimenopause that people tell you about. Apparently there are 34, but I’m trying not to treat this as some kind of hormonal bingo – I mean, what the hell do you shout when you’ve ticked them all off? And do you even get a prize?

One of the symptoms they don’t tell you about is the rage. The all-consuming, completely random rage. We are not talking a ladylike ‘tsk tsk’ here, this is fury incandescent enough to power whole countries.This week, for example, some of the things I have been furious at include:

  • people who stop in the middle of the pavement
  • old ladies walking up steps
  • sellotape
  • cat litter bags that don’t open properly
  • Oyster card readers
  • bra underwires
  • people who wake me up in the middle of the night
  • cinnamon jelly beans.

And that’s the little things. That doesn’t even cover the big stuff, like 40,000 screaming people at Wembley not wearing masks (had they all been double vaccinated? Were they all tested before entering the ground? Did they have to show their vaccine passports?) Or pretty much everything the bloviating buffoons in charge of the country say, particularly on the subjects of education or post-Covid recovery. Aggressive England fans shouting that football is coming home as if some silverware is going to solve England’s problems. (I will be supporting Gareth Southgate tonight, for those of you in any doubt: I think he’s a really nice bloke, who is down to earth, honest, well-dressed, intelligent, and if the team win people might just shut up about a penalty he missed 25 years ago, the poor sod. I couldn’t care less about England winning, but I would like Southgate to win.)

They call it ‘the change’, which sounds quite gentle, but this isn’t like WonderWoman spinning around and reappearing in sparkly pants. This is more like American Werewolf in London at full moon, complete with snarling and a really bad hair day. There are definitely moments when I’d be happy to bite people, and there are definitely moments when people need to realise that these bared teeth are not a smile and that backing away slowly is their best hope.

Back in the saddle

This week my colleagues and I have been back in a school, launching our Summer of Play programme in a Bethnal Green primary school. We saw nine classes over three days, and had enormous fun – I was only there for two days, as on day three I got as far as Whitechapel and then had to turn round and come back as Thing 3’s class had to go into self-isolation.

We had two activities running simultaneously: Fran, our creative facilitator, was working on barefoot coding and I was working on design challenges using the Imagination Playground kit above. With Key Stage One we were doing timed challenges and with Key Stage Two we were designing ways to cross a river: you can see me above in a boat built by a Year Six class. What we needed that day was probably an ark, as we were delivering sessions in between rain storms!

There were some surprises across the days: Year One worked brilliantly as a team, building together and sharing really well. Years Five and Six worked well when the teams were split boys against girls, but not so well when they were mixed. Some children worked really democratically, others not so much. Some teachers pitched in and got involved, others found it hard to let go and had to be gently persuaded to let us get on with it…but it was so good to be back doing what we do best, which is engaging with learners and talking to people.

The next lot of schools isn’t till September, but over the summer we’ll be out and about at festivals and play schemes with the kit, and I can’t wait.

Crafty!

On Friday I attended the launch event for Craft School – Yinka’s Challenge which is a nationwide challenge from the Crafts Council to get children and teachers engaged with craft thinking and making along three themes: play, storytelling and empowerment. I love these Crafts Council CPD sessions, as they are often designed as make-alongs. I had a free ticket, but people who paid £10 got sent a ‘material play pack’ including clay, so they could join in. The brilliant Rebecca Goozee, education manager, is very keen on embodied learning and plans sessions with great makers so you can learn along with them. I always find it easier to focus if my hands are busy, as regular readers will know, so these sessions are great for me. I fixed my pile of escaping bra wires and did some cross stitch as the sessions went on.

The final session, with a ceramicist, took the form of an informal conversation between the maker and Rebecca while they made pinch pots, rather than a tutorial (as the first two sessions had been) and it was wonderful – just listening to them talk about how working with the clay made them feel, and about their own experiences in the world of making, was incredibly soothing. If I was the Crafts Council I’d be thinking seriously about a podcast series in this format!

There was also a conversation between Yinka Ilori and his secondary school art teacher and mentor, who was clearly one of those teachers who stay with you for a lifetime. A lot of conversations that day – as the majority of the attendees were craft, art and design teachers – hinged on those teachers who supported us to become what we wanted to be and who gave us the space and the confidence to discover our passions and talents. And on those teachers who didn’t….

The three themes of the challenge sit well alongside my own museum’s new mission, so I hope we’ll be able to work with the Crafts Council in a more formal way moving forwards!

I can’t share the cross stitch I was working on, as it’s a gift, but here’s the Temperature Tree update for June and early July. As you can see, June wasn’t terribly warm either – a low of 13 and one day when we hit 27 ( a pale yellow at the very top). July’s not shaping up too well either.

So that was week 68 – we’re more than halfway through 2021 according to the tree, and coasting towards the end of term in ten days or so. Same time next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Guards Guards, Men At Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett (these are the first five of the City Watch series: you can see a reading order here)

63: we have the technology

Is it me or has it been the longest four day week ever? It’s been half term, and as we have now vacated the museum in order to hand it over to the people who will transform it I have been working from home. I must confess that Things 2 and 3 have spent a large part of the week building new worlds in Minecraft (or whatever it is they do) and I have not done much with them. With the help of a colleague I have, however, managed to mark 1600 objects as ‘NONE’ in the content management system, and a further 150 or so as ‘NIP’ (or ‘not in place’ for those objects that have gone into temporary storage for the next couple of years. That’s felt like a pretty big achievement! Now – the last part of the task – I just need to find anything that the system still thinks is in a cupboard at the museum and mark those as NONE or NIP as well.

Things 1 and 2 have managed to spend some time with their friends, which has been good for them, and their older sister came over in the week with her boyfriend for a barbecue. Apart from torrrential rain all day on Friday we have been pretty lucky with the weather. Their oldest sister and her little boy will be joining us today and I have promised lasagne for tea, which meant I left the village (gasp!) yesterday to have a sneaky mooch around the charity shops before a Tesco trip. Perhaps that’s why this week has felt so long: it hasn’t been broken up by being on site. Teams meetings just aren’t the same.

The next couple of years will see many of us continuing to work from home, however, as the way we work changes post-pandemic. It’s been hard for some companies to grasp that you don’t need the physical presence of your staff five days a week; we aren’t, in many cases, producing physical outputs as in the days of the factory. Increased connectivity, through applications like Teams and Zoom, mean that we can have ‘cross-site’ meetings effectively without being in a physical space. For those of us who were expected to be the ones travelling to the other sites it means we can meet with our colleagues without adding 40 minutes travel time each way to the meeting which was the pre-Teams reality. Over the last months we have been making use of apps like Google’s JamBoard and Miro, which have allowed us all to contribute to brainstorm sessions with virtual post-it notes (who doesn’t love a post-it thinking session?) and to collaborate on documents. I know this technology has been around for a while, but it’s taken a pandemic for us to catch up with it! You do lose some of the energy that comes from being in a physical space together, of course, but hopefully we can manage some of those too.

There are, of course, fewer people taking up desks in the museum sector at the moment – as well as many others, of course. The Museums Association redundancy tracker is showing 4,126 redundancies that have been “directly or indirectly attributed to the pandemic”. There will be more as recovery progresses. The appetite for indoor activities is, perhaps not surprisingly, lower than expected, especially in areas where virus mutations are high and there are questions around the efficacy of vaccines against these variants.

One outcome I have seen from the slashing of the workforce is a growing culture of toxic positivity. People are so worried that their jobs will be on the line in the next restructure/recovery/redesign programme that they are afraid to say no to anything. The result of this, of course, is an overload of work without the usual team back up: no successful event is delivered single-handedly, yet that’s exactly what’s being expected now as ‘business as usual’ is restarting while other teams settle down into their new structures. For any public event to work you need social media and marketing support, design support, bookings team support, on-the-ground support, support from within your own team, increasing technical support if your event is online – just for starters.

When one of these things isn’t in place – or when teams have been so decimated that they can no longer work responsively but need several months lead-in – then you have a problem. This is especially the case when everyone is competing for the same severely shrunken audience demographic: the one with the dinosaurs is going to win as dinosaurs don’t need marketing. So you have people trying to maintain pre-pandemic levels of engagement, with post-pandemic levels of support: a recipe for failure if ever I saw one. But what can you do when you worry that any sign you’re not coping will be either ignored or seen as lack of competence? So, toxic positivity reigns – and with it rising levels of anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

Sunshine superwoman

My stress relief, as always, is making stuff: I have been turning off the laptop at the end of the day and sitting in the garden for an hour or so before making tea, enjoying the sunshine and decompressing with some crochet or cross stitch. I am still working on the Hobbit piece in between making gifts, and as May is out of the way I updated the Temperature Tree. Like April, the month hovered in the mid-teens so there’s a lot of the same greens until we get to the last few days. Hopefully this month I can add a new colour as we hit the dizzy heights of 24 and 25 degrees in half term.

I have also been playing with some micro-crochet to create tiny toadstool jars, using this pattern found on Ravelry. I do love these tiny pieces – fiddly but so pretty. The first toadstool image is the original one I made – the others are the second version, where I added a tiny bit of stuffing to the toadstool cap and stitched the stalk to the ‘grass’ to make it stand up better. I also used a smaller bottle for the second version.

Swimming is another destressing activity: yesterday’s circuit of the lake was probably my slowest ever, as I stopped to look at the coot family with four tiny balls of fluff cheeping away, the mamma duck with her five stripy ducklings, another coot family and and a reed warbler. I had an hour while my friend was in a coaching session, so had no reason to race about, and I felt very serene when I came out at the other end. The water temperature was 18 degrees, so my skins dip at the end was quite long too.

So that’s been my week! How was yours?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Pel and the Bombers/Pel and the Pirates – Mark Hebden

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

The Strawberry Thief – Joanne Harris (Audible)

53: I like big books and I cannot lie

And small books, and middle sized books. Audio books, graphic novels, comic books. Fiction and non-fiction, picture books and wordy books. I just like books. The house is full of them: the two things I have far too many of, according to my beloved and the kids, are books and shoes.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Some shelves are more organised than others, of course: Terry Pratchett (although he has started to roam), Charles de Lint, Phil Rickman, poetry, the shelf(ves) of shame waiting to be read, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, my childhood favourites, crime novels by author, Penguin classics. Leave me alone in your living room and I’ll hit the bookshelves first and then your music collection. Leave me alone for longer than the time it takes you to make a cup of coffee (instant is fine, thanks) and I’ll start reading. A question I have heard more times than I can count is, ‘what a lot of books! Have you read them all?’ and the answer is always ‘no, and that means there’s something new to discover’. I keep books I love, and if I know I’m not likely to read them again I pass them on to friends or send them to the charity shops so someone else can discover them.

Image: openculture.com

I grew up surrounded by books and was rarely told what I could or couldn’t read, which means my taste is eclectic, to say the least. I love discovering new authors: I have devoured Tom Cox’s books – even the ones about golf – this year, having picked up one of his cat books in Oxfam. Being able to order new books in advance on Kindle and have them appear as if by magic on publication day is like having many Christmases and birthdays every year. The only problem is that often you get two or even three books appearing on the same day, and then you have to decide which to read first. That happened last week, with Ben Aaronovitch’s new Rivers of London novella What Abigail Did That Summer and Tom Cox’s Notebook arriving at once. Both were very different but equally delicious. Kindle is also wonderful in that if you really love a book and know that one of your friends will like it too you can buy them a copy as well. I subscribe to BookBub, who send me an email every day with daily 99p books that you can filter to the genres you want.

I am not precious about my books. I bend the corners down on paperbacks, and use the slipcovers as bookmarks on hardbacks. Books are meant to be read, not idolised: sometimes they are both. I have some books that have been read so many times they are quite literally falling apart. I possess a lot of bookmarks but can never find them. I love finding fellow fans of series: there are a lot of Discworld fans in museums, I have found, and then you know you have a new reading enabler who you can swap new finds with.

I disappear into books. Once I’m in the story, the kids know that if they want me to hear anything they need to get my attention first, or they have no chance. A good book, for me, is one that makes you want to go and find everything else that author has ever written and read that too, even if its about golf. Some books blaze across your imagination, burning in images that stay with you long after you’ve put the book down. Some authors excel at short stories, others at full length novels. Some do both: Stephen King is one, and Joanne Harris is another.

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

When I was a Key Stage 1 teacher I loved the moment when a child suddenly clicked with reading, and started to work their way through books for pleasure and not for phonics. Some children needed more help than others: one little boy wasn’t interested in the Oxford Reading Tree so I lent him my own book of children’s Arthurian legends because he was obsessed with King Arthur. He started reading them with his mum, and by the final story he was unstoppable and reading independently. I loved story time at the end of the day, and when I had the same class again in year 3 we read a chapter a day before home time. I read to the children nightly, in the same way that I was read to by my parents, and read many of the same books to them as I had as a child. I can’t bear to part with these childhood treasures, even now.

You can learn to do pretty much anything from books, too: over the years I have taught myself to crochet, to (sort of) knit, to sew, to quilt. When I was growing up my Dad’s household manual was the Reader’s Digest Repair Manual (I believe he still has it) and when anything broke he would refer to this bible. I was overjoyed to find a copy of the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing the other week, and then I tracked down the Guide to Needlework on Amazon. I may never need all these techniques – I can’t see myself doing bobbin lace or tatting, for example, but I’ll know exactly where to look if I decide I want to give them a try. A colleague asked me (as I carried my treasure off in triumph) how many sewing books I had. I don’t know, but I did organise them by craft a few weeks ago so at least I can find them when I need to!

I like to crochet or cross stitch and listen to audio books at the same time: that’s multitasking at its best. My book is the last thing I put down at night: sometimes I wake myself up when the book falls out of my hand. My commute is pure pleasure as long as I have a seat: a Central Line delay? No problem, there’s time for an extra chapter. If I have a rough morning at work, you can find me and my Kindle in KFC – the ultimate lunchtime cure-all.

So if you need me, I’ll be reading….

…and/or making stuff

This week I have handed over a handmade gift to a friend who’s just moved house, combining her family with her mother-in-law and taking on a renovation project. 3 adults, 2 kids and 3 hounds! I designed this one, using an alphabet from Lord Libidan and DMC Coloris thread. I’m working on two other gifts as well, which should be finished and sent off soon!

The Tunisian sock is coming on nicely, and is starting to look a bit more socky, which is reassuring! I like this stitch as it’s really easy to count the rows! The fabric has a more knitted look than normal crochet, so these will be stretchier, I hope.

This week’s cover photo is the museum fox sunning herself outside my office window – when we lifted the containers this week we discovered five cubs, which we think she’s found a new earth for. She’s so confident: the grounds are her territory, and since the building is closed she must feel very safe.

So that’s it from me for the week! Looking forward to the lake reopening tomorrow and getting back in the water and to seeing more than one friend at once as restrictions start to lift.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Cold Case/Flashpoint (Carlotta Carlyle) – Linda Barnes

London Particular (BBC Radio Drama) – Nick Perry (Audible)

What Abigail Did That Summer – Ben Aaronovitch (Audible)

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