When it rains

We’ve had the most beautiful weather this past week, perfect for pottering round the patio with a watering can,

visiting the pergola in the evening light,

and even enjoying a rest under its blooms at the weekend.

At no point have I had the time to get stuck into any really big jobs – it’s all just watering and weeding at the moment – but little seedlings are popping up left, right and centre, and sometimes it’s enough just to have a look while I give them all a good long drink.

Before last week, though, we had some truly miserable weather – for May, that is – with low temperatures and seemingly interminable rain. In truth, I didn’t get into the garden at all. Instead, I caught up with a little stitching.

You might remember my starting a new embroidered holiday diary while we were in the Lakes this Easter. From sketchy beginnings on a sun-drenched shore,

that first motif is now complete.

It won’t be framed until the year is out, and of course I haven’t pressed it as there will be more sections to add. In fact, you can still see the purple disappearing pen in places, but it will fade.

In the end I decided to add to my meagre selection of colours and now have this pile of beauties to choose from:

which made the pebbled shore,

woodpiles,

bluebell woods,

and hilltop stream so much more fun to do.

In fact, it was so much fun that I started retrospectively stitching a view of Pale Hall, where I spent my 40th birthday in January, before the sun reappeared. It’s good to know that I have something on the go, given our unpredictable British weather. Garden on good days, craft on bad. At least, that’s usually the summer plan around here.

I do have plans to launch another dress pattern later this year – it’s all ready to go, apart from the tutorial – but for now I’m just enjoying doing smaller bits of stitching in the smaller pockets of time available. I’m a great admirer of those who can whip out a sketch book and capture a moment on a page – and perhaps one day I’ll learn to draw – but for now I’ll keep doing something similar in linen and thread. And it’s the simplest thing in the world to throw a little inexpensive embroidery kit in my bag when I go away, and enjoy revisiting the scenes of our holidays as I stitch away at them when it rains.

Madeleine

Do you keep a holiday diary of any sort?

The magic of kits

Last Thursday, as soon as I’d published my post about our Easter holidays, I wrote another post about my dismay at discovering that I have a stash. Yes, I know that this is a problem that I am privileged to face and yes, I know that many creative people love nothing more than a great big stash full of possibility. But the thing is that this is my life and my time, and I don’t want to spend it making things I neither enjoy creating nor really want in the end. Life is short, and our planet’s resources are limited. I like to make things that I need, want and will treasure, one at a time, using up scraps as I go. That’s what brings me creative pleasure.

Part of the reason I was so fed up about it was that I’ve spent a lot of time using up yarn scraps this winter. I’ve knit two lace baby bonnets and crocheted two snoods, as well and knitting colourwork wrist warmers and a long fairisle snood for my mother, amongst other things. The final snood was finished in the lake district, and in my mind, that was the end of the materials in stock. As I found, that wasn’t the case at all.

We’ve had the pleasure of a long weekend this week, with a Bank Holiday Monday, and with the luxury of time I took myself off to my little studio to finish off another nearly-there project – hand binding my new sewing machine cover.

One thing led to another, and before I knew it I’d grabbed the hoover and a duster and was giving the whole room a spring clean. I emptied out all three desk drawers, moved all the books and generally had a really good sort out before putting things back differently to before. Rather than having a drawer for all things woolly (spinning, knitting, crochet) and another for all things sewing-related (garments, embroidery, patchwork and quilting), I consolidated all the tools into one drawer and all the materials into another. (Various papers, including patterns and writing materials make up the third.) This time, though, I was a bit more ruthless about what constituted a material. Food dyes? Yes, actually. Brown luggage labels? Yes. Essential oils and seeds for the veg patch and bits of beeswax? Yes again.

I also did something very uncharacteristic and donated a length of viscose to the charity shop. It’s not that I’m against donating – in fact I’m all in favour of it. I just think that donation has become a bit of a get-out-of-jail-free card for many of us when it comes to thoughtless consumption. Normally, we really do use things up and wear them out to the extent that they are only fit for recycling by the time we’re done with them. But that fabric was making my heart sink every time I looked at it. I didn’t want to sew with it, and I didn’t want to see it on Ilse for a year or two.

Out also (to recycling) went a couple of other well-intentioned projects, one of which was the beginnings of my handspun blanket. It is made from my handspun yarn, crocheted out of leftovers from various projects. But I have been making it for three or four years now, and it is just over a foot long. Again, I only have one lifetime, and there are other things I’d rather spend it on.

Thinking about long term projects led to me cast a critical eye over my scrap quilt squares. I’d already used up the postage stamp blocks I’d made for the other side of the sewing machine cover, and honestly felt like I’d had enough of that. Instead, I put together a kit for an EPP sewing roll. Everything is planned and labelled and a beautiful lining fabric has been assigned. All of a sudden, what was a languishing long term use-up-the-scraps project is a new and exciting portable craft, ready to come out and about with me this summer. I can’t wait.

There’s a lot to be said for trying your hand at something before committing to a major project, and the drunkard’s path blocks were something that I had my fill of very quickly indeed. It wasn’t the curves – I quite like sewing curves after all my dressmaking – but rather all the pinning of the aforementioned curves that was just tedious. So the fact that the first sixteen blocks were trimmed too small (don’t sew when you’re sleep deprived) turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I turned them into a lovely new pair of much-needed potholders:

and went on the hunt for a new quilt pattern. In the end, I chose to make something very similar to this, only with a grey background instead of the white. I cut up my 10″ blocks and a bit of Liberty and all of a sudden my I’ll-make-it-as-I-create-scraps quilt is now a kit complete with everything I need to construct the top, bar a border. It is going to be my autumn project, with a view to getting it onto our bed by Christmas, and once again, I can’t wait.

What with a washed and dried fleece paired with some food colouring (Ilse and I have a date set for this) as well as all those frozen elderberries and avocado skins, I’m ready to see how much I can get spun during the Tour de Fleece this July.

The jar of tiny scraps is ready to transform my old handspun yarn tags into reusable Christmas tags (the magic of pencils and rubbers) and some cards.

A favourite pattern and the right sized needles have been selected for some September sock knitting:

and a couple of other quick and easy projects have been finished off and cleared out of the way, such as some visible mending of a much loved (and very much on its last legs) jumper.

When all was said and done, I had a total of eight projects lined up for the next few months, all of which I am delighted about. I genuinely can’t believe just how much impact a simple shift – just collating materials into kits – has had on my attitude towards these materials. They have gone from being millstones to a series of treats that I am looking forward to getting stuck into, one by one. In fact, I was so keen to get started that I finally made some more progress on my holiday embroidery yesterday, and am planning another pleasant afternoon’s stitching very soon.

It has also inspired a flurry of other creative endeavours, with old projects being pulled out and dusted off all over the house; especially gratifying was finding some more scraps being added to a strip quilt last night.

It’s been such turnaround, from dismay to pure pleasure, over the past few days and I’m relieved that only the latter seems to be catching. I don’t know what the psychology of all this is, but I do know that there is something truly transformative about the magic of kits.

Madeleine

What are your tricks to make yourself excited about your materials again? Do you make up kits for yourself? Or do prep/ cutting sessions? Or is there another method that we should know about?

Away and back again

I often choose Easter as the time when one set of projects will end and another begins. Gardening, of course, begins in earnest around this time, as does the washing and spinning of a fleece. Because of this, I like to have my cold-weather knitting and sewing wrapped up, leaving me free to focus on the plants and some outdoor carding and spinning (raw fleeces are just too dirty for me to want to work indoors).

Of course, Easter is a moveable feast, which makes it an odd date to start the gardening year. It’s good to know I’m not alone in my madness: folk wisdom dictates that potatoes should always be planted on the equally moveable Good Friday. For me, though, Easter has two constants that makes it the perfect time for this changing of the guard. First, I always have a two week holiday in which to finish off lingering tasks and really get the garden started. Second, we always go away, if only for a couple of nights. I suspect that it’s this change of scene that has the greater influence on me, because we almost always go somewhere dominated by nature, which makes me almost ache to be in the garden when we get home.

This year we went back to the Lake District bothy that we hired three Easters ago. I think that it might be one of my very favourite places for an off-grid, switch-off and reconnect-with-one-another holiday. I love it there. I love that fact that there is no electricity, let alone wi-fi. I love the fact that there’s nothing to do on the candlelit evenings but play a game together, or snuggle into your sleeping bag with a torch and a good book.

Most of all, though, I love that fact that there’s nowhere else to stay on that side of Loweswater and in the mornings you have all this to yourself.

As everyone in the UK knows, the weather over the Easter weekend was sublime. It was perfect for early morning walks in the woods around Loweswater, admiring the gnarled trees and patches of bluebells.

I liked to finish my walks by approaching ‘our’ bothy via this green lane. Can you see it, nestled in the trees?

If you timed it right, there might be some breakfast or a cup of tea to enjoy on a log bench whilst watching the children play endlessly on the rope swing. We were very relieved to find it still there, three years later.

Despite the fact that I have done a reasonable amount of walking the in Lakes, and John has done a vast amount more, neither of us had ever been to Ennerdale, so we made that the object of our Easter Sunday walk. If you don’t know, Ennerdale is the dale which is being rewilded, which means that there are no cars beyond the car parks, no boats or bouys on the lake, and far, far fewer people than in other parts of the Lakes. We climbed the fell on one side before dropping down to walk through the most wonderful woodland, full of twisted roots and natural stepping stones, before stopping to have our lunch on a little pebbled beach. On the far side of the water was an Easter egg hunt which felt madly busy after the peace and tranquility of the first half of our walk, but we quickly left that behind and followed the curve of the shore full circle.

I completed what was to be my final yarn project of the season while we were there – far quicker than I would have done at home, as Ilse and I spent the first afternoon of our stay crocheting, reading and dozing on a hillside in the sun while the others did a Via Ferratta climb. Luckily I’d brought some materials with me to start an embroidered 2019 holidays diary, and set about sketching my idea whilst admiring Loweswater one evening.

I didn’t get terribly far with it before we came home, but I’ve been enjoying working on it since and it is coming along at its own pace. The plan is to add a stitched sketch of our lovely stay at Pale Hall in January, and then take it on holiday with me all year.

As you’ll probably have guessed, this was entirely inspired by Gillian’s holiday embroideries. I made one a couple of years ago, when we went to Greece with family for a couple of weeks, and never shared it on the blog. It hangs in our guest room and I love it in all its imperfection. There are many happy memories stitched into that bit of linen. (I do intend to share it here, but it is fiendishly difficult to photograph. One day I’ll surprise you with it.)

On the way home, we had to stop in on of my favourite spots to let some sheep meander across the road, and I took a final couple of photos to remind me of quite how big the world really is when I’m sitting at home in York.

There’s nothing quite like a mountain to put you in your place.

Home again, the children helped me in the garden for a couple of days. The vegetable patch was less than manicured. I like to tell myself that I was letting all those weed seeds germinate so that we could get them all in one go…

Whatever the justification, a couple of overcast days later all four beds were weeded and compost spread on the parts that had missed out in the autumn. Two more days saw them all the seeds that could be sown, sown, and the potatoes planted too. I can look at the next two photos much more happily.

I think the Easter holidays might be my favourite of all, coming as they do just as the world is waking up around us. With a short stay away, somewhere simple, to refocus my mind on the world around me and force me to look up from whatever might be in my hands. I love the forcefulness of spring: the way in which is bursts upon you, ready or not. And I’d like to think that I am, usually, ready, although this year I fear that I am not. But more on that next time.

Madeleine

Did you have a lovely Easter? Go anywhere or do anything special? Does Easter inspire you to make seasonal changes in the way you spend your time?

Gardening again

The sun came out yesterday and it was just the ticket to get me going in the garden.

Oh my goodness, how I’ve missed it. The fresh air, the worms in our homemade compost, the tucking in of little plants to new homes. It was the happiest afternoon I’ve enjoyed in a long while. I blame the sunshine, mostly. It was so good that I had a little nap in the hammock between planting up the pots and arranging them on the patio.

I’m not sure which I enjoy more: transplanting new purchases (there was a trip to the garden centre in the morning) or watching old ones reawaken. My hosta, which I thought might have died, is putting on new growth almost daily:

My fern has had babies while I wasn’t looking:

But best of all, my £1 supermarket ‘cut flower’ hydrangea is still going strong one year later, as are two cuttings I took from it last autumn:

I also enjoyed moving these enormous and beautiful bulb lasagnas to a new location. Planted last autumn, we’ve enjoyed crocuses, daffodils and one lot of tulips so far, with a second nearly ready to come into bloom. I will be planting these again every year, as they have brought me so much pleasure over the past several weeks.

Ilse helped me sow four trays of flowers for the cutting bed, and as well as some cosmos and nigella direct. The lilies are reappearing, and the aquilegia are sending up their flower spikes. In fact, they’re self-seeded and I can’t wait to see what the new flowers look like, as they cross like nobody’s business. I was careful to avoid them in all my weeding. The peony is on the move, and we’re already on our second type of tulip for the house. What with the ever-steady alstroemeria, and the still-slumbering gladioli and freesias, there should be flowers for months, but I’ve put in some sweet peas and anemones because I love them.

If you peer very closely at the top picture, you might spot our willow fedges, planted about a fortnight ago. We have been watering them carefully and are crossing our fingers until they sprout. They are probably the best thing we’ve done to the garden for years. It’s amazing what a load of flimsy willow rods do to a space. Suddenly, I have three different gardens to tend, and it feels very liberating. Having spent the last two days on the flower part of the garden, I’m looking forward to getting going in the vegetable garden next week. But while the weeds and general air of dilapidation would normally frustrate me, the willow allows me to completely compartmentalise it. For some reason I am perfectly happy to ignore it for the time being. Fancy that.

I know that not everyone is as mad about their garden as I am every spring, so if you’ve read all the way to the end of this post then thank you! But if you haven’t gone outside and stuck your hands in some soil yet this year, I urge you to do so. Apparently it has some feel-good bacteria or something, but whatever the reason it cheers me up no end. Pick a sunny day and repot a geranium or something. It’s as simple as that. Happiness as nature intended.

Wishing you a very happy Easter, if you are that way inclined.

Madeleine

Do you love the start of the gardening season? Does it cheer you up too?

Still not gardening (sort of)

Having announced that I wasn’t going to be starting work in the garden before Easter, I have to confess that I did head out and do a little pottering on both days of last weekend, and have some more planned for today. Nothing major. But it would be a shame to let the tulips in my cutting garden bloom unseen:

or for the cuttings under the poly tunnel to go unwatered. I also have plans to plant two willow fedges before it’s too late, so Seb and I constructed three rather rustic-looking gates to keep the hens in the right part of the garden.

They aren’t finished – the willow ends need weaving back in on themselves, and the sticks need sawing off at the edges – but I’m glad to have them made and almost ready to hang. The plan is to add more and more willow to them over the years as the fence/hedges grow, and thus make them sturdier over time, although they are easily sturdy enough for now as it is. Our hens might be determined, but they are only hens.

The plan is to divide the garden into three: a civilised patio/ lawn/ flower area near the house, the rest of the lawn and the hen house, and the vegetable garden/ fruit patch/ compost heaps/ children’s dens tucked away at the back. Several of our neighbours have similarly divided gardens and it works well when they’re as big as ours.

For once, though, there is absolutely no wishing away of time until that project is complete, because in the meantime the garden is bursting into life in the most exuberant way. This is the view from the kitchen window:

and above the compost heaps the new buds of the cherry are fat and red against the rusty old keys of the ash tree beyond.

The hawthorn hedges are greening up nicely:

and there’s purple sprouting broccoli to accompany our Sunday roast.

Still, despite not really getting stuck into work out there just yet, I do have one goal for every day that I’m not at work, which is to enjoy at least one cup of tea al fresco. Which is why I’m going to log off and get straight out there to enjoy the sunshine while it lingers. In fact, I might even give the outdoor chairs a bit of a clean, and an airing. After all, that doesn’t really count as gardening, does it?

Madeleine

I hope your garden is bringing you as much pleasure as mine is bringing me – what are you particularly enjoying, just now?

Colours, inside and out

Normally I’d be in the garden at the very first signs of spring, but not this year. This year, for sanity’s sake, I decided that gardening would commence at Easter, and not before. So apart from watering the odd seedling on a sunny windowsill, I have no jobs to do.

Instead, I pop into the garden whenever I get the chance, and just wander about. I rugged up on Sunday and had a cup of tea in our lopsided pergola, surveying the emptying vegetable beds. We’ve been enjoying the last of the leeks and the parsnips, and the first of the perpetual spinach and PSB. Mostly, though, I just wander around, looking at what’s coming back to life. The most urgent garden-related job is eating our way through the bags of soft fruit in the freezer from last year and even the year before that. We need to make room, you see.

It is surprisingly liberating. On my way into mass last week I heard an older man comment to his wife that it was time to get the lawnmower out, gesturing to the lush new growth in the church grounds, and I just thought oh, there’ll be time enough for that. One of my neighbours was out dealing with the first dandelions of the season, and for once I thought that ours could wait. I’ve not lost interest in the garden. Quite the opposite, in fact. I am very excited about my plans for the new season. But I’ll start them when I’m ready.

In the meantime, I am quite happy polishing off my wool supplies. I finished a second little bonnet at the weekend and have tucked it away in my handmade gift drawer, ready for a teeny-weeny head. It’s even smaller than the last – more of a newborn size than 3-6 months, and used up the end of a ball of sock yarn. Since then, I’ve been crocheting a simple snood using up the odds and ends from all this winter’s colourwork knitting. I added a ball of vaguely mustardy yellow to the mix and am enjoying playing with the colours, just choosing the next stripe. It’s brighter than my usual makes, but I do like it. I’m not sure whether this will be for me, or another ready-to-hand present.

All things considered, I am quite pleased with my new approach to spring, even though it is really a response to the fact that I don’t have the time at home to do everything I want to all at once. I’m even beginning to think that might be a good thing. It certainly feels like it, from my vantage point in a sunny bay window. I might do a little final planning by the fire this weekend, and check my supply of seeds so that I’m all ready to go when the wool runs out. But that’s as far as the gardening is going to get, for now at least, and for once I’m okay with that.

Madeleine

Do you hit the ground running in spring or sit back and watch it instead? I actually think I might be enjoying it even more than usual this year, by just paying attention instead of making mental to-do lists. What’s your favourite approach?


Sleepy sewing

This was supposed to be a post about the start I’ve made on my 5″ square scrap quilt. Last weekend saw me dragging myself through the days, worn out by about six different factors, but determined to enjoy the days off. I managed a swim, some knitting, tidying the house (with lots of help from everyone, as usual), and a couple of hours in my little studio, sewing.

The quilt blocks themselves are easy enough to make. It’s going to be a randomised drunkard’s path quilt, meaning that all the curves will go off in different directions – you might remember me dying and cutting the pieces during the Christmas holidays. I made a highly technical template from a cardboard tea box, cut the first patterned squares into pieces and paired them with their grey counterparts to make quick, simple squares. Then I had the fun of arranging them into bigger, four block arrangements, like so:

Finally, all I needed to do was trim each little block down to the right size, and it was done. I merrily cut all 16 of the blocks I’d cut down to 4″ squares, before remembering (just as I was falling asleep one night) that 4″ was meant to be the finished block size. I told you I was tired.

No matter. Our potholders have been looking beyond shabby for some time now, so 16 squares will be perfect for two double-sided replacements. Worse things happen at sea.

Which means that I still have all 484 blocks to make. In truth, I have no intention of making that many this spring – I only have enough patterned squares to make half that number anyway. This is meant to be a long term project, using up scraps over the next two or three years. There’s really no rush, and the first 16 blocks were good practice anyway.

In other, more successful news, may I introduce you to the first seedling of the season? It’s a Grandpa Admire lettuce, and I can’t wait to eat it.

But today is going to include neither sewing nor gardening, because I’ve a little woolly bonnet to finish, and a sunny seat by the window to enjoy while I do so. It’s been a week of early nights and as much rest as possible so far, and I fully intend to finish it the way we started. And besides, the next set of squares are ready and waiting for a more successful sew next weekend.

Madeleine

Any silly sewing mishaps lately? Or other foolish errors? I for one find it hard to mind with all this spring sunshine and new growth around.

Small pleasures

This little bonnet took an inordinate amount of time to knit – or rather, not knit. February wasn’t a particularly productive month, what with all the other commitments we had as a family, and in the end I spent a couple of very pleasant days over half term finishing off a few odds and ends. As well as helping Fliss with her Jane Eyre dress, I sewed through the remainder of the projects I cut out in January, and had the pleasure of wearing my new tulip skirt to work yesterday. Best of all though, I spent a few hours in the bay window at the front of our house, listening to dramas on the radio and finishing this new baby gift.

Of course, now that I’ve made it, I think I’ve enough wool left over to make an even tinier version, too. It’ll look good in blue, with a white trim and strap.

There are a few more projects that I’d like to complete between now and Easter, because my lovely aunt in Scotland sent me home with two bags of fleece last weekend. Come Easter you’ll find me skirting, sorting and washing these. They came with plenty of lichen, and what with the elderberries that I never made into syrup, and the bag of avocado skins I’ve been amassing, there’s lots of dyeing on the horizon.

Before I get to that, though, there are a few other odds and ends that need using up. I’ve had my fill of colourwork knitting, having done so much of it over the past few months, so I’m going to crochet these piles of leftovers into a couple of snoods. There’s a ball of mustard yellow on its way to lift this little pile:

and a bigger crochet hook to enable me to crochet all three strands of these yarns at once.

It seems that I won’t get around to making another Winter Flora this spring, and while part of me feels that I ought to, another part of me just wants to play with these colours in a different (and quicker) way. And that’s okay. After all, hobbies are meant to be a pleasure, not a chore.

One very definite pleasure is the book on my bedside table this week, lent to me by a friend. The night I started it I stayed up far too late, reading long after my bedtime. As a result, I’ve set it aside as my weekend treat, when I can finish in long greedy gulps.

Between the fleeces, a good book and a spot of patchwork in the evenings, I’ve a lot to look forward to at the moment. Really, nine tenths of pleasure is in the anticipation. With that in mind, I’ve set aside half an hour this afternoon to start one of those yarny projects with a cup of tea and a hot water bottle, and I just can’t wait. Small pleasures, but pleasures nonetheless.

Madeleine

Joining in with Ginny’s Yarn Along at Small Things.

What are you reading at the moment? Any recommendations?

A small, sustainable wardrobe: dressing up

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

As you are probably aware, it’s World Book Day next week. Fliss has been planning her costume for months – literally: since last October. And sometime between then and now, I made the promise to help her make an 1840s dress from scratch.

Now, before you start thinking that I am one of those mums who spends days planning and making her children’s fancy dress costumes, can I assure you that that is most certainly not the case. My children are more likely to be pointed towards the recycling bin and told to sort themselves out than have much input from me. Partly this is because I have had years of dressing up days to contend with, but it’s more down to the fact that dressing up days are, in my opinion, all about giving children the chance to flex their imaginations and creative minds and come up with something all by themselves. I flatly refuse to buy or hire costumes for them – don’t have a look at statistics on the number of costumes that get sent to landfill each November if you’re of a sensitive disposition – because it is the most ridiculously wasteful way to approach the issue. Added to the fact that it doesn’t stretch the children at all, it sets my teeth on edge.

Why, then, did I promise to help Fliss sew an 1840s dress? Well, we started with something reused and upcycled – a charity shop sheet that had already served as a spookily enormous cloak last autumn. But more than that, I was swayed by her utter devotion to the project. She has spent ages poring over Victorian costuming books, fashion plates and illustrations in her own copies of classic novels. She’s begged me to watch the Dressing up as a … videos by Prior Attire, in order to understand all the different layers. And, in truth, it’s an area that I’ve wanted to dip my toe into for a while now. There are many incredible creators of authentic (and not-so-authentic) historical dress out there that it’s a rabbit hole easily tumbled down, I can tell you.

Our dress falls very definitely into the not-so-authentic category. For starters, we used a polycotton sheet, because pure cotton sheets are hard to come by in the charity shops around here. We didn’t have the time, inclination or fabric to make copious numbers of petticoats to support her skirts. And of course she doesn’t own a corset – not that she needs one! Instead, we dug out a 1950s style net underskirt that was in the dressing up drawer (full of ghosts of costumes past, and heavily drawn upon) and layered her ballet character skirt on top.

The deal was that I would make the bodice while she made the skirt, and that we had from exactly 10am until 4pm to get it done. (Otherwise I could have spent days on this, and I have other things to do this half term.) This was a fast, furious and not particularly careful sew. I took the speedier, electric machine and she took the 1916 Singer, which she prefers anyway. We simplified the skirt, deciding upon a simple elastic waisted one instead of making cartridge pleats and then fixing it to the bodice – her ‘dress’ is actually a skirt and top. I wanted her to be able to make it quickly and easily and all by herself, which she managed with aplomb.

Thanks to York libraries we had access to a fabulous book, and this is the earliest of all the Victorian projects in it. And while we took shortcuts with the skirts, I am proud to say that I constructed the bodice authentically. The only things I changed were not lining it (to save fabric) and bias binding the neckline (because I ran out of piping). My favourite thing about this dress, apart from how wonderfully Victorian she looks in it, is how Victorian the bodice looks laid open, with all the seams in the right places, and not a dart in sight.

The pattern was surprisingly easy to draft. Because Fliss is still significantly smaller than the adult size given in the book, I scaled it down using not much more than common sense and intuition – not something I’d do were I making her a modern blouse. But that’s the thing about Victorian patterns – to my limited knowledge, anyway. They were made to be taken in and let out, adjusted as they changed owners and body shapes. The seams are left exposed and unfinished for a reason – and you can change the fit of the garment quite easily. I fitted the bodice on Fliss while we worked, pinning it into place and then sewing. The shawl front, which is actually a whole second layer on top of a fitted bodice, is simply attached at the neckline and pleated before the top and bottom edges are finished. The sleeves are set so low that they are actually identical. In modern garments, there’s always a left and a right sleeve, to allow for more fabric (and ease of movement) at the back of each shoulder. Not so in this outfit. And so the sleeves were the easiest I’ve ever set in. Finally, I pinned the back together so that it fitted nicely, folded back the excess fabric and sewed on a row of hooks and eyes. I didn’t trim any fabric, so that she can let it out as she grows. I know I’d want to, if my mum and I had made a Jane Eyre costume together.

Much as I’d like to show you a photo of the full effect, head included, I don’t put pictures of my children online, so you’ll have to make do with some headless Victorians instead. Think of her as the friendly household ghost. I can, however, show you the back of her practice hairdo:

which really completes the look.

Most of the time I groan when the children tell me about yet another dressing up day, but this was even more of a delight to make than I had anticipated. I think we might have sown the seeds of a new passion, for me if not for her. I can see myself making another such outfit, by hand, in natural materials, from the inside out. Practising my skills by cording petticoats before moving on to embroidering a shift, knitting some stockings, and maybe even constructing a pair of stays. Who knows if I’ll ever make the time. I’ll certainly keep reading about it.

And, from the reception that her Jane Eyre dress has had, I expect that Fliss will be wearing it to dress up whenever the occasion allows. Who knows, it might even go into a box when she heads off to university one day. Surely that amount of wear would make it a very sustainable costume. Which makes me very happy indeed.

Madeleine

What have you been sewing lately? Anything fun?

Please forgive the grainy phone photos! I ran out of steam after all that speedy sewing, and was too busy in the garden to take proper photos the following day…

Everything but the knitting

It is still light when I get home from work, and I am feeling a tremendous urge to do everything but the knitting. Remember this shot from a couple of weeks ago? It hasn’t been touched since. Despite several bouts of feeling that I really ought to finish it off, it just isn’t happening. But that’s okay, because everything else is.

It’s half term here next week and I am very much looking forward to a few days off with the children, as well as tackling a few projects around the place. I am desperate – desperate – for some time in the garden. I know it’s early, but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I am spending so much more time indoors these days, at work. Whatever the reason, that’s where I’ll be spending a whole day, as well as any little snippets of free time I stumble across. Just now, it is in that funny late winter state of being both a terrible mess (think blown down brassica cages and piles of sticks still waiting to be burnt) and beautiful (think bulbs). The crocuses are up and they are just the loveliest little blooms, minding their own business here and there until someone takes the time to crouch down and appreciate their charms. I love them. As well as admiring the flowers, I also want to sort out some chicken-proofing and get on with planting lots and lots of seeds. Having decided against a full vegetable garden in the autumn, I have now done a U-turn and intend to plant a full vegetable garden. Will I curse myself for this in June? Maybe. But I want to get my hands into the dirt, and have endless salad for free. And there are few things more therapeutic than a spot of watering after a long day at work.

In the spirit of getting ready for spring, I am also going to spend a day or so ploughing through the end of all those sewing projects I cut out at Christmas. The last two weekends were completely obliterated by the children’s ballet show, so I’ve got a couple of things that haven’t made it to the machine yet, including a prototype skirt for next year that I’m very keen to start wearing. And I’d also like to do a spot of pre-spring cleaning, while I have the time.

Conscious that I’m quite capable of spending the entire week ticking things off a project list, the children have each been told to choose something that they’d like to do for an entire day with me. In no particular order, the three younger ones have chosen: playing cafe with real food all day (the menu has been in progress ever since), making a mid-Victorian dress so as to dress up as Jane Eyre for World Book Day the following week (I’ve got a book out of the library to help) and doing a spot of twitching in a bird sanctuary (we’ll be choosing the warmest day for this). We’re also going to be seeing Ben, and are looking forward to seeing what he chooses for us all.

Doubtless I will also find time to finish that lovely little baby bonnet, which will be very satisfying indeed. After which, I’m inclined to put away my needles for the time being. I’ve a garden to grow, and plenty of sewing to do in the form of quilt blocks and pattern samples. We’ve been saving avocado pits and skins in the freezer, as well as the elderberry harvest, and are hoping to spin and dye a little fleece on rainy days. Then again, if it snows you’ll probably find me by the fire once more, casting on for something or other. I blame it on the weather.

Madeleine

Have you had half term this week, or are you off next week like us (or not at all, if you live outside the UK)? Done anything fun? We’re open to recommendations!