124: God bless the cactuses

It’s not often that the death of someone I don’t know moves me to tears. The last time it happened it was losing Terry Pratchett in 2015, in fact. The passing of Bernard Cribbins this week was another of those moments. He’s just always been around, hasn’t he. From my childhood with The Wombles and Jackanory (more than 100 stories told there!); Albert Perks in The Railway Children; my kids’ childhood with Old Jack’s Boat; my adulthood with Doctor Who; the refrain of Right Said Fred ringing in my head after many, many meetings going over and over the same subject.

His role as Wilfred Mott in Doctor Who was beautifully done: for me, when Catherine Tate joined the cast, it was too close to her comedy show for me to take her seriously (so shouty!) and Bernard’s presence made her bearable. I have come round to her now after several rewatches, but his performance never gets outshone. Ten’s final episodes (‘The End of Time Parts I and II’) are heartbreaking: John Simm, who played The Master for Tennant’s Doctor, said this week that the hardest thing he had to do was be mean to Bernard Cribbins. He seemed like a genuinely lovely man, who has left a great body of work behind him.

Talking of interminable meetings…

By Thursday this week I had sat through more meetings than you could shake a stick at, and while the content was interesting in many cases my brain was a bit fried and I was overcome with the urge to make something. So at the end of the day the laptop went away, the sewing machines came out, and I spent a couple of hours using a duvet cover and an old favourite pattern to make a new dress.

There are benefits to using a familiar pattern (in this case the Simple Sew Kimono Dress): you don’t have to cut it out, you’re not focusing on any new techniques so your mind is free to think about other things, and in this case it was a quick make. Four seams and a hem, basically, and my dress was done: the pattern is a wrap dress, which has been a wardrobe staple in this recent heat, and then I used some scraps to create the waist ties. I added a pattern-matched patch pocket, and voila! A new frock which I teamed with wedge sandals for work. I love the rather sheepish looking jaguar in the pattern!

I carried on the sewing yesterday: a cross-body bag for the rare occasions I am pocketless, and a Rad Patterns Lucky Lingerie bra that I’d cut out a while ago. The bag was from The Book of Bags by Cheryl Owen, which I won in a magazine draw ages ago (I think) and that did need new techniques: inset zip and inserting a lining. Tricky but I like the end result. I also threaded my overlocker for today’s sewing, and loaded bobbins with black thread, so I am prepped for more creative adventures today!

Making me happy this week:

  1. the Africa Fashion exhibition at the V&A and seeing some of my favourite young people from Spotlight
  2. Working on the Travel by Tardis cross stitch from Country Magic Stitch
  3. Seeing J’s face when I handed over his new GIANT dice bag

That’s all, folks – I have to go and get my bathers on!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Moonglow/The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – Michael Chabon

The Running Hare – John Lewis-Stempel

103: self-indulgent sewing

This week has mostly been about resetting my brain, one way or another – as you’ll have seen in previous posts, it’s been a busy few months with various work projects and all the other things that go with being a mostly-functioning adult. I took a couple of days off mid-week, as for the first time in many years I was in danger of having too many days to carry over into the next leave year.

As these were days just for me, I took them ‘off-off’, as opposed to making a list of practical things I needed to do – you know, opticians appointments, running errands and so on – and planned a sewing project. Folkwear Patterns, one of my favourite companies for a good dramatic piece, have recently published a jacket pattern in their new Basics range which I liked the shape of. I do love a ‘statement’ piece, as fashion magazines would say.

“A collection of simple patterns based on the premise of folk clothing, these pieces are easy to sew, easy to fit, comfortable to move and work in, and are a great canvas for creativity.  Make these pieces simple and plain or embellish till your heart’s content.”

https://www.folkwear.com/collections/basics

Another thing I’d been keen to try after my adventures in patchwork during lockdown was to make a quilted piece of clothing, so with a straightforward pattern this seemed a good time to try it. Seamwork, which also has an excellent range of patterns, has a link to a tutorial for making on how to quilt fabrics for garments so I headed there for some help.

The first issue I ran into was fabric choice – the pattern, as the front and back are cut as a single piece, isn’t suitable for a one-way print. The fabric I wanted to use for the outer layer – a double duvet cover in a dark teal green, with parrots and leaves – was (of course) a one-way print so I had to do a bit of cutting and sticking before I could sew. Pretty simple – I found the shoulder line, sliced the pattern along it and cut the back and front separately before sewing them back together and treating them as a single piece. Next time, I’ll remember to cut out the lining pieces before I cut the pattern so I don’t have to stick it back together! I chose to cut two sizes larger than my actual size, as I wasn’t sure how much room I’d lose when I quilted it. For the bottom of the quilt sandwich I used a polycotton sheet, as it wouldn’t be seen and was pretty much the same weight as the outer.

Once I’d cut all the bits out I started following the quilting tutorial, and never have I been so relieved that a garment had a full lining. I didn’t use enough pins/clips/nails/double sided sticky tape to hold the ‘sandwich’ together so the sheeting moved around like mad, bunching up and generally teaching me not to be lazy with my pinning. Luckily the aforementioned lining hides the disaster inside. I didn’t have quite enough batting to use single pieces, so one side is very much pieced together! Another reason to be glad of the lining….

I chose to quilt in straight lines, but only did small sections at a time so I could change the direction of the lines. You can see the front and back sections above – the chalk marks on the back are where I changed my mind and decided to leave sections unquilted as I liked the effect. The angles marked on my quilting ruler were very helpful here. The pattern isn’t symmetrical across the left and right halves of the jacket but the patterns and lines are roughly the same. I really liked the vertical quilting on the front sleeves and the ‘V’ shapes on the back.

Having quilted the bottom half of the front it dawned on me that I hadn’t accounted for the pockets which would cover my lines, so before I added the pockets I lined them up, marked lines on them and stitched ‘mock quilt’ lines so they’d fit in. I decided to change the pocket opening as well, as the side opening pockets looked as if everything would fall out. They’d be great for hands but not so good for things like keys, phones, pet dragons, shiny rocks, emergency waffles and so on. I went for a top opening – they’re very generous pockets, too, which is always good.

Day two was about construction. I trimmed the lining to match the outer, to take account of the quilting. Sewing the jacket together was very straightforward with only three seams (underarm/side and back) on each layer. The lining was attached with a single seam around the neckline and bottom hem, and then the sleeves were bound and the pockets added. I topstitched all around the hemline, threw the whole thing in the washer and dryer to get rid of the chalk marks and to fluff up the batting, and then gave it a press.

Having convinced Thing 1 to take some photos for me, I was all done – two days of singing along to loud music (classic rock and ska punk, mostly) and sewing something that’s made me really happy. It’s great to throw on, it’s lovely and warm and has big pockets as well as being dramatic enough for stalking the galleries of the V&A – you know you’ve nailed it when a visitor asks where you got it from. I teamed it with a black skater dress (also made by me) and a pair of platform boots – and new earrings also made this week. You can see them below, along with the alpaca beret (from one of the crochet mags) and a rainbow tinycorn.

I’ve also finished the Mental Health First Aid qualification I was doing, and went for a long walk with friends that ended up with toasted teacake and hot chocolate with a mountain of cream and marshmallows at the market. Last night was a meal out with some girlfriends at the local Indian restaurant – it’s been far too long since we’ve done that!

And now I’m off for a long bath….

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Kept Woman – Karin Slaughter

The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

Influential Magic – Deanna Chase

Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Novels vol 2 (Audible)

100: What I did in half term

This feels like a pretty momentous week, what with it being my 100th blog post and so on, but in reality it’s been one where I have mostly been unconscious at 8.30pm every night after a full-on day – yes, even on Friday when London was being battered by Storm Eunice, for which I have been soundly told off by the clan.

As I may have mentioned once or twice before, the museum I work for is in the middle of a spectacular reinvention and part of the process is making sure we have young voices throughout the museum, reflecting what’s important to them in the 21st century and co-creating work with them which will be on display. I am attached to the Design gallery, where we are exploring some key messages – one of which is around sustainability. Our target age range (though anyone can use the space) is 11-14, and so we’re working with a local youth service called Spotlight.

Spotlight is the sort of youth space that I would have loved to have access to growing up (heck, I’m pretty keen on it now!). It has media spaces like a radio station and tech rooms, a boxing gym, dance studio, cafe, games room, fully equipped music studio, health and wellbeing services on site, friendly and accessible youth workers who have a great relationship with the young people and (where we’ve been working this week) an art and fashion studio. This last is underused, as it’s a space where the young people aren’t quite sure what they can do in there, but hopefully we’ve changed that this week!

The project kicked off on Tuesday with a trip to the V&A all the way over in South Kensington, with 15 young people, the designer Scott Ramsay Kyle who was the creative on the project, one of our freelance team, a few Spotlight staff and me all on a minicoach bringing back memories of school trips for the adults at least. In stop/start London traffic it was a miracle we only had to pull over once for a girl to be sick, but it was a close call!

The V&A is still closed to the public on Tuesdays so the young people (YP) were in VIP mode – we fed them lunch, where they were joined by our Director and some of the curatorial and learning teams, and then we took them to Gallery 38 where our collection is currently being stored and conserved in preparation for going back on display in 2023 when Young V&A opens. Katy and Trish, two of the curators, showed them some examples of historic clothes and talked them through some of the processes used to make them. The YPs were amazed that sustainability was a ‘thing’ several hundred years ago although not so much in the 1960s. I won’t go into too much detail here as I have to write an ‘official’ blog post about the project soon.

We spent some time in the fashion gallery exploring clothes through the ages, mark making in their new V&A sketchbooks and focusing on detail and embellishment. Watching children and YP make the mental connections between new and existing knowledge is always a joy – the gaggle of Year 8 Bengali girls who had been learning about the East India Company in school spotted a dress made from the very fabric they’d been learning about, which caused a twitter of excitement and recall of history lessons. Only one of the YP had been to the museum before, on the previous project so the space was very new to them. South Kensington is a long way from Poplar both physically and psychologically, and while many had been to the Science Museum or the Natural History Museum the V&A hadn’t figured. Being able to sprawl on the floor to draw, to have access to all the knowledge they needed from curators and to navigate the space on their own terms made the galleries accessible.

VIP access to the fashion gallery

The rest of the week was back at Spotlight with fluctuating numbers of YP – but always a hard core of two or three who came along all week and surprised themselves with what they created. Wednesday was all about fashion and nature, so we worked with two creatives on different aspects of this. Hanna Whiteman explored natural dyes with the YP, helping them create swatches from red cabbage, turmeric and safflower and exploring the effects of different additives. Memunatu Barrie worked from cut flowers and textures found in the park outside, exploring how to create texture and line on paper. We finished up with a dye experiment, hanging the sleeves of a pink hoodie into the dye vats overnight. We only had four YP that day which given the messiness and excitement of the dying was probably a good thing! We were also joined by Maraid Mcewan, our inclusive designer in residence who came along for the rest of the week.

On Thursday we broke out the deadstock fabric and charity shop finds and introduced some sewing skills – curator Trish joined us again, and we explored mark making on fabric with embroidery thread and layering using bondaweb and felt. Some of the YP took their hoops and threads home to work on, as they were so engaged in the process. Trish, Maraid and I also got pretty attached to ours, as did Lydia the brilliant youth worker. There had been an SEND open day in the morning so we attracted a range of YP with different needs in the afternoon, and as there were so many adults it worked really well in terms of the level of assistance we could provide. As I know from helping the Things sew at home, it’s much easier with many pairs of hands to help thread needles and untangle knots! Although our target range for the project was 11-14, the centre works with YP with additional needs up to the age of 25 and we will be an inclusive museum so everyone was welcome to join the session.

On Friday, despite Storm Eunice making an appearance just before midday, we saw 15 YP over the day – some carrying on with their embroidery, some remaking clothes by embellishing and adding materials, some discovering the studio for the first time as they had only signed up to the centre on the previous day. There was some knitting, some draping on mannequins, fabric painting, more bondaweb as the YP customised clothes, but such a creative buzz all afternoon. We sent them all away with their hoops and embroidery (‘what – we can keep them? They’re for us?’) and the things they’d made. The injection of coffee mid afternoon from the cafe was much needed – if you find yourself down in Poplar in need of refreshment, the cafe makes quite possibly the best chocolate brownies I have ever tasted, and a good range of other food at very reasonable prices too.

Other quotes from the week included ‘I’m eleven years old and I’ve made two outfits in two days!’ (one of which was his own interpretation of a 17th century waistcoat he’d sketched on Tuesday), and ‘This is the best place EVER’ from one of the new sign-ups.

Although Scott and I were shattered by the end of the week, we were blown away by the talent and creativity we’d seen over the week and we can’t wait to go back to finish up their co-creation at Easter.

See you next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Torchwood – First Born (Audible)

Ninth Doctor Novels vol 2/Tenth Doctor Novels vol 1 (Audible)

The Lost Art of Letter Writing/The Witches of Cambridge – Menna van Praag

Ink and Sigil – Kevin Hearne

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)

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)

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

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