119: fifty before fifty

Today it’s my birthday and I have reached the grand old age of 49. Most of me still works, after a fashion and in the case of my knees with a considerable amount of grumbling. The hair is probably a bit greyer under the various purple and red hues I apply to it, there’s a few more laugh lines and it takes longer for the sleep crease by my nose to disappear of a morning. I spoke to someone the other week on her 49th birthday and she’d made a list of 50 things to do before 50. One of them was to do a cold water swim minus the wetsuit, and I said I’d do that one with her, but 50 things in a year is an awful lot. That’s nearly one a week!

Rest assured, dear readers, I will not be making a list of things to do before I am 50 – well, I will inevitably be making innumerable lists before I am 50 but they will be things like:

  • make vet appointments for cats
  • order repeat prescriptions
  • find your glasses
  • don’t forget your lunch
  • tidy the shed

and other such prosaic things. I do not think those things would be on a bucket-list affair. Those probably have things like hot air balloons, sky dives, skipping up Mount Everest. Things that take a lot of organising.

I would like to:

  • swim in the sea
  • swim in a river!
  • make a dent in the shelf of shame
  • walk the Essex Way but not all at once – over a few weekends with friends would be my plan
  • hike up Yr Wyddfa
  • visit the rest of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries (four down, three to go)
  • tidy the shed (it has to be done.)

That’s seven, then – so lots of room for ideas.

I have celebrated so far with a relaxed barbecue in the back garden yesterday and I have been for a swim this morning with some friends. My gift from my beloved is a new second-hand shed that we collected the other day, which needed repainting, some patching with new planks, and general TLC. It’s now in its new home in the garden, waiting for me to hoover out the cobwebs and fill it with things, which means the original shed will have enough space to work in! What was lovely when we went to collect the shed was seeing the original owner’s daughter zipping round the garden on a bike that belonged to eldest stepdaughter originally, which we’d given away in lockdown – reduce, reuse, recycle in action! Literally, in this case.

London sister gave me an excellent Tilley hat for adventuring in (to go with the adventure pants) and broached the idea of doing an ultramarathon next year…apparently one isn’t actually expected to run the thing, and I love a good walk, so why not….

Other things making me happy this week:

  • finishing the stashbusting Summer Night shawl
  • starting the Satuko shawl in a gorgeous yellow colourway
  • evening swim on Thursday
  • the museum’s 150th birthday celebrations
  • the end of Thing 1’s GCSEs
  • new haircut
  • walking through sunny fields

Things making me really f*cking angry this week:

The Supreme Court of the United States. Welcome to the old world order: backstreet abortions, maternal mortality rates shooting up, desperate actions by desperate women who for whatever reason (and those reasons are f*ck all to do with a bunch of conservative men and one traitor to her sex) can’t carry a baby to term, don’t want to have a baby, aren’t ready for a baby, whose lives will be put at risk by pregnancy, who have been raped. Women who cannot afford a baby, let alone the hospital bills for having the baby in the first place.

This is not about babies or children and the right to life: if that was the case they’d do a lot more about gun ownership. Only weeks ago the same court struck down a New York state law requiring people to prove they have ‘proper cause’ to carry a concealed weapon. This, in a country where gun violence has overtaken motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents.

This is not about babies. This is not about children.

This is about power, who holds it and who doesn’t.

It ain’t women, and it ain’t kids. Guess who’s left.

Rant over, at least on here.

Kirsty x

The Sacred Bridge – Anne Hillerman

The Broken Cage – Sarah Painter

Ingathering: The Complete People Stories – Zenna Henderson

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)

Week thirty: in which I am smacked in the head by the inspiration fairy

On Friday I woke up with a fully formed and irresistible urge to turn the iconic Marble Floor at the museum into a cross stitch pattern. It’s an idea I have been playing about with for the three years I have worked there, but neither my design skills nor my patience were really up to it.

So what’s changed? Well, for one thing, working on a project which is all about creative confidence, the iterative design process, and building resilience is clearly rubbing off on me! I felt much more prepared to give it a go than I have done previously.

Secondly, the response to the ‘Storming the Castle’ design I blogged about in week 28 has been so positive that I felt as if something more complicated was doable.

Finally, in the ‘Snarky and Nerdy Cross Stitch’ group files I’d seen a lot of references to an open source design programme called Stitch Fiddle, and when I looked into it it seemed easy to use even for a non-designer like me. For a free-to-use application it has great functionality, and even more if you subscribe. You can use it to create knitting and crochet patterns too, and presumably anything else that requires small squares.

So at 8am on Friday I asked any on-site colleagues to take a few photos of the floor for me – a close-up and a wider angle, and a few people sent me some great images. We work in museums, so slightly odd requests come with the territory.

I started with my trusty grid paper from StitchPoint, trying to turn the uneven blocks you can see in the image into a uniform pattern. The blocks were all made individually by women prisoners from Woking Gaol, and some are more even than others, so this was quite tricky to do. I wanted to create a repeating pattern, rather than an exact replica of the floor itself, and I found it hard to translate the tiles onto my graph paper.

I tried processing the image on the left through another free software application, this time Pic2Pat, so I could see what the blocks would look like on an even grid pattern. This came out like this:

Still not perfect, but much easier to work from! I was able to create a basic circle from this which I then turned into a repeating pattern using StitchFiddle. I haven’t found copy and paste functionality as yet, but for things like this it would be really handy. There is a mirror horizontally or vertically function, but you lose the original and are left with the reflected one only. I did use it later, when I was having problems repeating the fishscale pattern to the left – I flipped it and then carried on working to the right.

Then it got a bit tricky – I could not see where to start the overlay to create the fish scale pattern on the screen, so I went back to basics: I printed the pattern twice, stuck one together as the base layer and then cut circles out of that so I could layer them up with the handy glue stick and the coloured pencil so I could mark where I was up to.

Finally, armed with this, I went back to Stitch Fiddle and created a final digital version which can be found here. I’m going to add lettering to the version I’m going to make, so have been playing around with alphabets on the printed version – I’m not sharing that yet though! I also made a quick version of the Greek Key border. I can see myself using Stitch Fiddle more in the future, as I’d quite like to make more designs with quotes on.

I finished the ‘Storming the Castle’ piece as well, which I am pleased with. I need to iron it, and then decide on finishing – wall hanging or frame? Note the overlocked edges on the fabric too – I’ve never thought of doing that to prevent fraying before but will definitely be doing it every time now!

I’ve also been adding to my portable crochet project – the one I do on tubes, in queues and during zoom conferences when I need to focus. If my hands aren’t busy I find things to fidget with and get very distracted, but a granny square in hand keeps my eyes on the screen. I am making small squares this time, using leftover DK yarn from the stash – when it comes to sewing the ends in I will undoubtedly regret it. This will be a blanket, I think: I am going for a patchwork effect.

Won over by a onesie…

This morning was the third week of winter swimming at Redricks – the weather was cloudy but it wasn’t raining, which after this week of school run downpours was pretty impressive! I really look forward now to getting in the lake, despite knowing that it’ll be even colder than it was last week, and I know the ladies I go with feel the same.

I’m still swimming in a wetsuit, though only 3mm, and I have added neoprene socks and gloves to the kit which make a difference. You wouldn’t think they would, since the cold water is inside them, but there we are. The last thing I do before racing for the towels and hot chocolate is strip the wetsuit off and jump back in the water in ‘skins’ for a splash about which is quite exhilarating. You really do earn the hot chocolate. Here we are this morning – I’m a great believer in the icy plunge, but the other three don’t usually do it and claim that I’m mad.

Ladies of the Lake (photo by Isla Falconer)

The swimming kit bag seems to get bigger every week: mine now contains goggles (which I only wear in the sun), swimming hat, towfloat, a towel, the giant robe I made, a fleecy hat, thermal socks, neoprene gloves and socks…and a onesie. I have resisted onesies for years – possibly as every time I went places like Romford or Harlow shopping there would be fully grown adults wearing them in public. I was totally behind various Tesco and Asda stores when they said people in pyjamas would not be allowed in (I was going to add ‘especially if you’ve made the effort to put full make up on’ to this). But then I tried getting leggings and a top on after a cold swim, when none of your fingers work properly, and decided I’d try one. And – OMG – I was converted. I bought a plain navy zip-up one with a fleece-lined hood and a kangaroo pocket, and it was like wearing a hug. It’s become my go-to for post-swimming wear now: robe on over towel, strip off, pants on and onesie and I’m good to go.

There’s no excuse for this though. Sorry.

Full English: Photo by Isla, socks by Primark, sandals by Birkenstock

So that’s been my week. I’m still sorting the learning collection, discovering treasures that have been hidden in cupboards for years. This includes the little-known ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ edition Action Man, whose elastic joints have seized since 1964 into a very balletic pose, and a whole box of mint condition Star Wars figurines by Kenner. This week I’m onto toys (magnetic and mechanical), and hopefully the clothing collection.

And now I’m off to tuck up under a blanket and catch up with Bake Off… See you at the end of week 31!

Kirsty

What I’ve been reading:

Battle Ground (The Dresden Files) – Jim Butcher

Hard Time (Time Police) – Jodi Taylor

See Delphi and Die/Saturnalia (Falco) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

Podcast: You’re dead to me (BBC Sounds app)