150: make, do, and mend.

Another week which has zoomed (or at least MS Teamsed) by in a whirl of meetings and emails. The high point of the week was a day at the Wellcome Collection, host for the Endangered Materials Knowledge Programme’s two-day workshop on the role of Mending and Making in museums. I attended day one in person, and dropped in to the morning of day two online. EKMP is a programme set up to research and capture the skills, technology, knowledge and values being lost as processes become more and more industrialised. It explores how these skills are being passed on, and connects source communities with museum objects. One of the speakers spoke about the annexing of the ‘make do and mend’ ethos from WW2: it’s not all about making do, it’s about making new, learning new skills and mending to extend or repurpose. Just the addition of commas changes the sense of the phrase (much like the ‘let’s eat, grandma/let’s eat grandma’ example).

In museums (in my head, anyway, I am sure conservators will tell me I am wrong), I have always assumed that damage is part of the story of an object: the evidence of being buried as grave goods, the reason something was thrown away, the story of on object surviving centuries underground. You know, the stuff that ends up on archaeological display in the British Museum – helmets with bloody great blunt instrument damage, for example.

As we know from Instagram and so on, ‘visible’ mending – sashiko, boro, kintsugi, darning, etc – is enjoying a moment in the limelight as a reaction to the rise of fast fashion and consumer culture. In my explorations of the handling collection before we sent it off to other museums, invisible mending was more apparent: the ricrac braid covering the tell-tale line where a dress had been taken up or down, miniscule stitching on tears or holes in baby clothing. The attendees of the conference – fabulous people like Kate Sekules and Bridget Harvey, and Celia Pym who was lurking online – wore clothes with gorgeous rainbow darns and embroidery highlighting and reinforcing holes. Catherine Reinhart was darning socks and Catherine Howard brought vintage textiles and encouraged people to tear and mend squares in any way they liked, to add to a collective project. There were lots of links made between making, mending and mental health and wellbeing – both collective and individual. I was secretly thrilled when several people commented on the dress I was wearing (one of my repurposed duvet covers) and my quilted jacket (ditto). Talks on yurts in Kyrgyzstan and fishing nets, on how saris are repurposed, explored how fabrics are remade to support new pieces when they are too far gone to repair.

Of course, it wasn’t only textiles, though this was what had attracted me in the first place. There was a talk on why miniature artists make using repurposed household objects, patchwork and bricolage in southern Africa, and from someone who used an old French horn to give his lawnmower a new lease of life. All of these were basically a justification for never getting rid of things which may come in useful (my Beloved would agree with this: he was thrilled when making our deck to use a piece of oak which had been in the garage for 30 years, in case it was handy).

I was particularly interested in a talk on damage and repair in Iron Age shields, which challenged the theory that things like the Battersea Shield and other objects previously thought to have been made purely for ritual purposes or flashy display had actually been used in battle until they were no longer repairable. X-rays and scientific testing showed craftsman-level repairs of small damage presumably caused in day-to-day use, perhaps training – and when damage was inflicted in battle the repairs were deliberately obvious, maybe to say ‘OK, I survived this – come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’. Only when the shield or helmet’s owner was dealt a death blow were the objects consigned to grave or the liminal spaces of the rivers and lakes.

There was, of course, lots of interest in the museum reopening and the work I have been doing with Spotlight and Scott Ramsay Kyle on sustainable fashion and mending. I also caught up with Scott this week, over coffee and a tour of his department at Central St Martins. I’d have loved to have had a go on the looms and spinning wheels, as well as spent time talking to the students. They had a swap shop going on, where students could bring materials left over from projects and swap for something they needed. UCL have a Repair Cafe, part of a worldwide movement, which helps people mend and repurpose.

Later today I’ll be catching up with an online session from the Textiles Skills Centre – find their YouTube channel here – from their Tea ‘n Chat series. After I have defrosted a bit from my ice swim this morning…

Other things making me happy this week…

  1. First training walk done for the Race to the Stones. Just under 9km, negotiating swamps and electric fences. Only six months to get up to speed! https://www.justgiving.com/team/Gwrachod-Ar-Daith for more info on who we are and what we’re doing.
  2. Nice conversation with an older lady on the tube about crochet
  3. An update on the museum’s progress.

Now I must go and defrost a bit…. same time next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Summer Knight/Brief Cases/Death Masks – Jim Butcher

Guards! Guards!/Men at Arms – Terry Pratchett (Audible)

146: Practically perfect in every way

Not really, of course. I have a butterfly brain, a yarn habit that requires two sheds for storage and an insatiable urge to try all sorts of new crafts, an addiction to books and shoes, a callous disregard for excessive housework, and a very strange sense of humour.

Still, it’s that time of year again when we’re supposed to kick off a new go-round of the sun by finding fault with ourselves and making resolutions to stop this, to start that, to do more of x, less of y, to be better. A quick Google tells me that New Year’s resolutions have been around for about 4000 years, thanks to the Babylonians (though they made theirs in spring when the new farming year started) and presumably people have been failing to keep them for around the same, though they had the added incentive of falling out of favour with the gods if they didn’t keep theirs and not just feeling a bit guilty. Being held accountable by someone handy with a smite or with the power to have you eaten by crocodiles or something concentrates the mind wonderfully, I expect.*

January 1st is a terrible time to make resolutions, anyway. It’s cold and dark, it’s often raining, you’re suffering from terrible indigestion after eating your own bodyweight in cheese and Quality Street and quite possibly you have a hangover from ill-advised coffee tequila shots the night before. The inevitable return to work looms large in the diary (if you’re over 30 you’ll probably still have the hangover then too), the interminable round of meetings and the long wait for January payday is ahead of you, and there’s all this expectation to be all self-improving while you’re at it. There’s an actual date in January – the third Monday of the month – called Blue Monday which some bright spark of a professor calculated was the most depressing day of the year.

I have decided that this year we should have a New Year’s Revolution, not resolution. The adaptation of the very sweet (but a bit smug) The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy tells us (or the fox does, anyway) that ‘you are enough’. Let the revolution be to be moderate, not to give up or to change your whole life. To be a bit nicer to ourselves and the people and the world around us. None of us will ever be perfect, and let’s acknowledge that rather than making grand ‘THIS is the year I….’ statements that will be profoundly depressing by the 16th bowl of overnight oats with skim milk and no golden syrup.

If you have to make a resolution, make it something you’re excited about: a new adventure for 2023, take up a new hobby (I have booked a hand-spinning workshop at the Waltham Abbey Wool Show, for example – not that I plan to take it up, but why not have a go when it’s on offer?), make a plan with friends that’s realistic. I have two more of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries to visit, so they are on the list. Set a challenge for yourself but make it one that you want to do, not one you’ll hate the idea of: I want to do a long walk, either the Essex Way or the Race to the Stones. Resolve to treat yourself once a month, to a massage or a cinema trip. We are in the middle of an energy crisis, a cost of living crisis, strikes galore (which I support wholeheartedly) and the gloomiest part of the year – give yourself something to look forward to.

Have a Happy New Year instead.

*I may be mixing up Babylon and Djelibeybi at this point.

The long dark teatime of the year

Timeshare Teenager Two and her partner presented me with five metres of Moomin fabric as a Christmas present, so I spent a day sewing this week – at the stitch show in October I bought the Folia frock pattern by Sew Different and had been looking for the right fabric for it. I also made their Scoop Pinafore in a golden cord, and have started cutting out the Sunrise Jacket in a navy twill, using a Craft Cotton Co fat quarter bundle for the sunbursts. Activity has been slightly hampered by sewing through my fingernail and out the other side, but I am soldiering on….

On the hook this week has been this TARDIS by Army of Owls – which gave me the chance to muck about with shrink plastic for the first time since we used to shrink Wheat Crunchies packets on the heater outside room C2 at Monmouth Comp. I found the door sign image on Instructables, and used felt for the windows rather than embroidering. There will be some earrings as well, as I printed some extra door signs for that reason….

And now I am off for a walk with Miriam, Jill and the hounds. You’re getting this early so you can be saved from making any unnecessary resolutions….

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Bellweather Rhapsody – Kate Racculia

1989 – Val McDermid

Keeper of Enchanted Rooms – Charlie N. Holmberg

Juniper Wiles and the Ghost Girls – Charles de Lint

125: ooh look, a butterfly

This week I am feeling uninspired, which is not like me at all. The Things are off on their school holidays, the weather is nice and – as my role is formal learning – there are no teachers out there to harass so in theory I have lots of time to catch up on the to-do list. In theory. In reality, as always in August, my head is relaxing on a beach with a good book instead of focusing on the GEM conference presentation I ought to be writing. My butterfly brain has been fluttering from item to item on my to-do list, and lots has been started but not much finished. The first 800 words of the presentation are tweaked to perfection though…

Luckily my sewing mojo has come back so I have at least accomplished something this week. Sometimes sorting out the shed throws a fabric to the top of the pile and reminds you that you had a plan for it. I had a lieu day to use up so took advantage of a rare meeting free day to indulge in some midweek stitchery.

The fabric in question is a lovely dark red cotton with daisy-ish flowers all over it. I love the By Hand London ‘Anna’ dress pattern, and have made a couple of versions previously: a maxi length in a yellow floral digital print viscose (lovely feel, horrible to work with) and a knee length version in a black polycotton where I’d experimented with extending the sleeves. You can make it in a range of lengths and there’s a couple of neckline options to choose from.

I wanted this one to be maxi length but with the longer sleeve so I could wear it for work, and I chose the V-neck option for a change. Rather than front darts for shaping, the dress has a couple of vertical pleats on the front, with darts on the back. The waistline sits high and the skirt is panelled so it’s a flattering flared shape rather than the current trend for tiered flounces. I extended the sleeves to just above the elbow into a flared shape to echo the shape of the skirt, and I was really happy with the outcome and wore it to work on Thursday. Apart from the zip insertion bit where I diverged, the instructions are really clear so if you’re looking for a beginner project with a good result I’d recommend this.

I also used a cotton voile to make a red square top using the Seamwork Bo pattern, a black shirt dress using the Seamwork Jo pattern (and another Bo to use up the double gauze!), added a Moomin iron-on to the bag I made last week, and in the evenings I finished the Travel by Tardis cross stitch from Country Magic Stitch and updated the Climbing Goat Designs temperature galaxy.

Other things making me happy this week:

  • Absolute Classic Rock not playing Peter Frampton at any point while I’ve been listening
  • My beloved’s birthday
  • Swim and a bacon sandwich this morning in the sunshine
  • Lovely afternoon with board games and friends yesterday
  • Lots of dog walks with Bella-dog, Loki the puppy, Dobby and Kreacher and their lovely owners
  • Paper Girls on Amazon Prime Video

Same time same place next week? This week I have three days out in Tower Hamlets with actual people and the blue blocks, a new cross stitch to do and I’m half way through the current crochet project.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – Michael Chabon

A Change of Circumstance – Susan Hill

More Tales from the City – Armistead Maupin

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)

94: absolutely pants

Back in prehistory, before there were children, when I was young and mostly irresponsible and drank far too much Mad Dog 20/20 on nights out and other such unwise things, underwear was mostly impractical, lacy and – in the case of the Wonderbra – designed to make the most of my very limited assets through the cunning application of scaffolding and cantilevering and other miraculous feats of engineering.

How times change, eh? These days what I mostly look for are underwires that aren’t going to stab me halfway through a meeting and multipacks of pants in the right size and shape in Tesco. No one should feel too much sympathy for my beloved at this point: I am sure he’d far rather I wasn’t being tortured by my bra than anything else. My frustration often lies in the fact that the sizes left in the supermarket are either for skinny twigs or the larger trees – or if there are any in my size they are enormous ‘granny’ pants in some hideous shade of beige or soon-to-be-grey white. Supermarket pants also tend to be made of very thin cotton lycra fabric and trim which has a lot of stretch but frays easily.

Solving this problem became much easier when I bought an overlocker and began to make my own. You can make your own underwear with a normal sewing machine as long as you have a reliable stretch stitch and the ability to vary the length of your stitches, but at the time my basic Brother machine didn’t have that capability. The overlocker means you can whip up multipacks of your very own in short order.

The first ones I made were the amazing Wonder Undies by Waves and Wild, closely followed by the Speedy Pants for the children – Thing 2 absolutely loves them and I have made multiple pairs for her since. I love the fact that you can choose the waist rise and the leg style and that once you have the hang of it you can make them really quickly. I also love that you can use sensible colours or take advantage of all the mad prints out there – Thing 2’s favourites had unicorns all over them and I love my rainbow ones. This week I discovered Rad Patterns (another NY resolution gone….) and their Lucky Booty pattern. I really like the fact that Rad offer accessible patterns – wheelchair friendly skirts and tops with medical port access, for example.

You also get to make matching bras/crop tops – Waves and Wild came up with their Superstar Bra last year and Rad patterns had a few styles already. The rainbow one below is the Watson bra by Cloth Habit. The Watson also comes with a bikini pant pattern – I haven’t tried that yet but I’m sure I will. This afternoon I’ll be making up the Lucky Lingerie bra and some Wonder Undies for Thing 2.

The only trouble I have found is that home-made pants look absolutely ENORMOUS next to shop-bought – but they feel amazing (‘like a hug for your butt’ as one sewer put it) and last forever. If you haven’t had a go at making your own yet, you’re missing out.

It is, of course, only a small step from pants to swimming costumes – I embraced my inner mermaid this week and made a completely mad two piece using another Rad pattern (the Renee swimsuit) for the top and the Oasis pattern by Ellie and Mac for the bottoms. I wore it this morning for our winter swim (5°c in the water, 1°c out – brrrr!). The fabrics are foil prints from Pound Fabrics in emerald and a fabulous fish scale print which changes colour when it moves.

This week saw the last leaves added to the 2021 Temperature Tree – it’s been quite a ‘flat’ year for temperatures, so let’s see what 2022 brings. I’m doing the Climbing Goat Designs Rainbow Temperature Galaxy this year. I should probably have used the same colour palette but I have gone with the same one as the designer used.

Anyway – I need to go and defrost a bit more, so I’ll be back next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Bridgerton (1-6)Julia Quinn

The Unhappy Medium – T J Brown (badly in need of a good editor)

83: where the hell are all the teaspoons?

…and other such middle aged concerns.

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

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

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

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

(*no, sweetie, you’re stuck with us)

Sewing b*&!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

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

82: thinking like designers – or possibly chickens

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

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

Photo and chickens courtesy of Chinami Sakai

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

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

The materials the children were given

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile…

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

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

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

Comet in Moominland – Tove Jansson (Audible)

81: it’s showtime!

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

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

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

‘I do believe we are muted’ – Philippa Moggridge

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

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

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

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

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

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

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

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

78: speaking as a ‘nice to have’…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking as a kinaesthetic learner…

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

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

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

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

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Unseen Academicals/Going Postal/Making Money – Terry Pratchett

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