Habits, old and new

In February, more than any other time of year, I find myself relying on old habits. Good ones, to keep life running smoothly. They might be easy – grabbing a jar of soup from the freezer as I head out the door to work – or require a bit more effort (my Tuesday night swim definitely fell into that category this week), but habits really do work.

Thankfully, new habits are relatively easy to create, one at a time. I tend to throw one in every few weeks, just for fun. This week was the week of starting to eat a salad for lunch every day, on top of my usual mid-morning soup. It’s only been three days and already I’m planning my next batch. And loathe as I am to join in with food trends, I have to admit that jarred salads are pure genius. I’m making them three at a time and the third was as fresh and appealing as the first. I just grab a jar from the fridge as well as the freezer on my way out the door now.

Like all families, we tend to let things slip a bit when life gets busy, and our children asked John and I whether we might revamp our plastic-free efforts a bit. I was all too happy to agree – some plastic has begun to creep back into our shopping – and we had a look through our bin to see what the culprits were. It turned out that it was mainly the odd unusual purchase – and lots of plastic from food that friends gave us when they emptied their fridge before a recent holiday. While there are a few things that we’ve reverted to buying in plastic (for instance our toothy-tab supplier ran out for a while, so we’ve been back on tubes of toothpaste), for the most part habits have kept our bin slim. Neither John or I would think of heading to the shops without our shopping kits in tow, and really, it is no extra effort at all. So we’ve just made a list of plastic-free goods we need to replenish to avoid some packaging we have fallen back into buying, and that’s about all we plan to do for now.

It goes without saying that I do have some bad habits – drinking endless cups of tea is one I’m tackling at the moment. There’s nothing wrong with the odd cup of tea, but from time to time I find myself drinking nothing but the black, caffeinated variety all day, which can’t be good for me. So far, I’ve cut it down to two cups a day, and I’m finding myself ready for bed a little earlier with each missing cup. Seriously, I’m sleeping like a baby at the moment, and this is from someone who normally sleeps well. Who knew it was having such big effect?

Then there are habits that are good for the environment but not always so good for me, like not buying flowers any more. In the summer, this doesn’t matter as I grow my own, but in the winter I rely on the odd flowering pot plant. Well, this week I have been doubly blessed by a bunch of alstroemerias regifted by those same holiday-going friends, and the most gloriously bright bunch of tulips as a thank you from another friend. What a joy it is to have flowers in the house again. They make me smile every time I see them.

What’s more, they’ve got me thinking about my own garden again, and those bulb lasagnas I planted in the autumn. I wonder how they’re doing? I must pop out and check on them, as well as the other things under cover, and give them all a drink. Soon enough it’ll be time to get back into the habit of watering them every few days and pulling weeds when I get in from work. That’s the lovely things about habits in a temperate climate: they shift with the sun. Nothing lasts for ever – not the winter and its challenges, nor the habits we build to survive it – and that’s just the way it should be.

Madeleine

Have you been trying out any new habits recently? I’d love to know – and maybe try them for myself!

Preparing for spring

Over the past few years, I’ve come to make the winter months precious by filling them with winter-only activities. Come spring, I’ll be needed in the garden, and I’d like to immerse myself in a fleece or two on rainy days. That means that there won’t be much – if any – time for knitting. So I’m doing a little pre-spring cleaning, and using up the bits and pieces left over from other makes.

So far, three such projects have graced my needles: a long-awaited (we’re talking years) tea cosy for our house, a pair of colourful wrist warmers and the start of a sweet little bonnet for a soon-to-be-born little person. I started the bonnet on Sunday afternoon while watching a film with the girls and went wrong twice before finally reading the pattern properly. I have to say, I didn’t mind a bit. I was so cosy, wrapped up on the couch in front of the fire, and working on something so small that it was the work of an hour to pull it out and start again. The yarn is leftover from the socks I designed, with the idea that the busy new parents will be able to throw it in the machine when it gets grubby. I’ve been there.

The wrist warmers were a bit of a slog, if I’m honest. Not because they were hard (they aren’t) but because there were three yarns used in every colourwork row, so I had to keep dropping and picking up two of them. They were one of those projects that I had to set an end date for. I’m glad I did, though, because Fliss loves them and I’ve set them aside for next Christmas.

Bringing me the most pleasure, though, is the new tea cosy in my life. This is going to sound ridiculous, but why did I not know how effective these things are? They keep the tea piping hot for ages, even in our somewhat chilly house. I used a pattern from this book, and have plans to make little birds with the last of my leftover scraps. More Christmas presents, you see. The pile on the present shelf is growing, as there have been some little sewing additions too, of late, and it is so satisfying to reach for a gift you made a few months earlier with just that person in mind. Come next Christmas, it really will feel as though the elves had made it all.

With the lengthening days, the urge to read about the natural world has come again, and I found myself scanning the library nature writing section. In the end, I plumped to reread The Shepherd’s Life. We’ll be going to the Lake District in the spring, and journeying through its pages feels almost like setting off on that little jaunt a few weeks early.

I love having so much to look forward to, but instead of thinking I can’t wait, I find that really, I can. I can because I have so much to enjoy doing between now and then. Next up will be another pair of wrist warmers, and a second snood, and perhaps even a second little bonnet to tuck away for another, as-yet-unknown baby. A few little birds might find their way into the children’s rooms. There are winter walks to enjoy, still, before reading about the rest of the year indoors, in the warm. Come the spring, I’ll be out there all the time, with my hands in the cool dark soil. For now, though, I’m preparing for spring in the most pleasurable ways I know.

Madeleine

Joining in with Ginny’s Yarn Along at Small Things

How are you preparing for spring? Or is it not on your mind just yet?

Introducing Winter Flora

Winter has most definitely arrived in the UK. This is what my garden looked like this morning:

and now it is hung with freezing fog.

I, for one, am rather pleased with this cold spell. The frozen cobwebs and candied blades of grass are magic enough to make cold toes and fingers bearable. We don’t get many days when the temperature stays below freezing through all the daylight hours and each leaf, each twig, each little bit of gravel is locked in a perpetual dawn.

No matter how cold it gets, there are flowers out there to brighten my day. Last autumn, for the very first time, I planted little winter violas in the hanging baskets, and their purple blooms greet me every time I come home. The children were incredulous that they would last all winter, but there they are, flowering on either side of our front door. I am looking forward to a rush of new growth in the spring.

Much older are the hellebores and snowdrops, planted under the old apple tree soon after we moved in. It’s a tricky little bed, shaded and drought-ridden thanks to the tree but directly outside our patio windows. Of course, it’s the winter and spring flowers that do best there, and the nodding hellebores are one of my very favourite. Modest and demure, they wait the winter out with quiet stoicism, eyes to the ground, adorned in gentle purples and pinks and creams. Nearby, the snowdrops have been appearing almost overnight, unnoticed until they ring their little white bells. They are both the sort of flowers that you have to look for, crouch down by, gently lift to admire their blooms. Winter flora, even in the midst of all this frost.

These little dabs of colour are such a joy in the midst of the grey that so characterises the British winter. And, it seems, no month is greyer than February. January I can like, with its energy and sense of renewal – and my birthday. But February? February needs a little colour.

So what better way to celebrate the colour and beauty outside the back door, than to bring a bit of it inside to work on by the fire? This month’s pattern celebrates the gentle colours and delicate shapes of my two favourite winter flowers. I’ve laid them in a bed of moss, with moss stitch borders at either end to complete the illusion. Laid flat, the flowers are clearly depicted, but once on, the design is more subtle.

Unlike all my patterns to date, this is not for beginners, and there will be no tutorial. This snood isn’t very complicated to make, but you do need to know how to knit with two colours at once, twist in your yarns as you go, and read a simple chart.

I really enjoyed designing this project. I started it on Christmas morning, working out the chart in an old maths book, and finished it in the car on the way to my birthday weekend. It blocked in the bathroom overnight, and we took these photos on our walk the following day, when the sun popped out unexpectedly for all of twenty minutes. Of course, I wore it the ‘wrong’ way up, as the snowdrops are meant to face downwards. I even managed to photograph it upside down… But we didn’t see the sun again for a few days, by which time it had been parcelled up and sent to my sister in law for her own special birthday. So these are the photos I have.

I have enough yarn upstairs to make another, so that’s what I’ll be doing in February. Knitting with colour, running the soft yarn through my fingers, and enjoying every tiny detail of the winter flora. And then having something new to wear for those tricky final weeks of winter, when spring seems so long in coming.

Madeleine

The pattern will be published in my Etsy shop and my Ravelry shop next Thursday, 7 February 2019. It calls for Drops Alpaca yarn – one ball of each colour 7238, 0100 and 3800 – and a 3.5 mm circular needle.

I would like to give away a copy of the pattern, so if you’d like to enter a little giveaway, please leave a comment at the end of this post by midnight GMT on Wednesday 6 February. I’ll announce the winner on Thursday 7 February.

What are you knitting at the moment? Are you reaching for the colour, too? I’m looking forward to sharing my other knitting projects with you next week.

These days

I’ve been making a real effort not to say I’m so busy, although truth be told I catch myself doing it all the time. Yesterday afternoon, collecting Ilse from my parents house, I found myself doing my usual must dash! – and it was true. John has been out of the country for work this week, which has been the cherry on the cake of a very full life.

The trouble is that the word busy doesn’t have the best connotations. There’s something self-important about it, as well as pointless. They call it busy work for a reason: something to keep children occupied and make them think they are getting somewhere whereas, in fact, they are standing still. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with a bit of busy work, as long as it’s a conscious choice. I’d count knitting something simple as grown up busy work, really. But I don’t want to think of my life as busy. I want to think of it as full of the things I love.

These days, I am working four days a week outside the home and one day on my pattern designing business, and I am loving it all. Around the edges, though, I’ve chosen to keep going with the other things I enjoy, rather than putting them on ice for when the work dries up, or, worse, the last of the children leaves home. Like most people, I like finding out about how other people spend their time and, as this has been so much on my mind lately, I thought I’d share a week with you.

On Mondays, I just go to work. Normally, nothing happens in the evening, which is the loveliest end to the first day of the week. John and I take it in turns to come home and take care of the children and the chores, or stay late at work. As a result, I either switch off by cooking and doing the ironing, or walk straight into a house with a lit fire and tea on the table. I like both.

The lack of clubs means that Monday nights are when I tend to finish off – or at least work on – whatever craft project I started at the weekend. This Monday just gone I finished a couple of waistcoats for an upcoming ballet show (don’t worry, I’m not actually in it. I wouldn’t inflict that on any audience).

On Tuesdays, I go for a swim in the evening. We decided to enter an outdoor swim this summer, so since December I’ve been swimming twice a week (more in the holidays) at our local pool. There’s a women’s only session on Tuesdays, which is the perfect time to do interval training in the pool as everyone is very polite and knows that you are not trying to race them for a couple of lengths before going maddeningly slowly for a bit. At least, I hope so. Maybe they all just think I’m annoying.

On Wednesday evenings, I have a music lesson. At the moment, I’m working on the piano. You might remember that I also play the flute, but I find that one instrument to practice (hopefully) every (most) day(s) is quite enough to have on my plate at the moment, thank you very much. One day I am going to do my flute diploma. But I am enjoying playing the piano so much that I’ve decided to go for my grade 8 on that first. It might take forever, but I’m enjoying the journey and I’ll get there eventually.

Thursday is my day when I work at home on my business, and in the evening I head out to my adult ballet class. To be entirely honest, John often has to give me a shove out the door. Having spent a day blissfully cacooned in my own little world of sewing and knitting and writing, the thought of donning a leotard and going out into the cold and doing what is always a really challenging class is not a little daunting. Then I get there and I love it. Every. Single. Time.

On Fridays, I like to come home and cook and then watch something in front of the fire with everyone. I might, if I’m feeling energetic, do a little knitting. I always have an early night. Now that I’m forty, I don’t even pretend to want to stay up late.

Saturday mornings are probably the hardest part of the whole week, involving cleaning the house, planning meals and generally catching up with the debris of the week. Suffice to say that I have streamlined this to within an inch of its life. I will never enjoy it, so it may as well be got over with as quickly as possible. I know that there are people who love this more than anything, but I just don’t. If I could travel through time, I’d go and get myself a Victorian housekeeper – you know, one with really high standards who would take care of everything. Sadly, I can’t. At least everyone pitches in.

I do, however, love Saturday afternoons, because this is often when I start a big new crafty project. If you remember, I did a lot of cutting out of fabric during the Christmas holidays, and last week it was a joy to be able to just pick up those waistcoat pieces and start to sew. There is no way I would have had the wherewithal to grade and cut the pattern, but sewing? I can do that. Especially with a pot of tea, some Christmas cake and some good company.

If I’m not sewing, I’m swimming, because the weekend is the best time to get into the pool and just swim for as long as I want. Sometimes I have company that gets bored after about an hour, and sometimes I go on my own and stay in much longer. I don’t mind when in the weekend I go, or how far I swim, as long as I go and do at least 60 lengths of crawl. I am astonished by how much progress I’ve made in two short months.

Sunday has long been family day in our house, and in winter that often means a walk. Last Sunday it was just a short one: an hour along the Fulford Ings and back. The week before we all went to see Mary Poppins, instead. Next weekend is Residents First weekend in York, when all the local attractions and restaurants and so forth are open at a very reduced rate to anyone with a YorkCard. There’s a lot to choose from, but I’m hoping for a trip up the Minster tower as it’s been literally years, and perhaps a visit to Barley Hall or the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. We’ll see.

I can’t quite decide whether this is the most boring post in the world (I suspect it is – sorry) or actually vaguely interesting to those of you who don’t know me in real life. But I think I’m going to publish it anyway, for my future self. There’s been a lot of dedicated diary writing in our house, lately, and I caught myself thinking that I really ought to keep one again. And then I remembered that I do, after a fashion, right here on this blog. One day, when this big old house is much emptier and I have time on my hands, I’d like to look back at the way things used to be. The longer I live, the more I realise that life changes, imperceptibly, all the time, and what was just the norm one year is completely forgotten the next. So this is a little record for myself, really, of these fleeting months at the start of my fifth decade, and how I chose to fill them.

Madeleine

What are you choosing to fill these days with?

Introducing Mrs Darcy Wears the Trousers

Like many others, I greet the autumn with wool in hand, my to-knit list growing faster than I get get through it. But by the time December arrives, my appetite for knitting is sated somewhat, and I start planning my New Year sewing.

I love to sew in the cold and crisp new year. The winter is the only time when I can fully turn my back on the garden, and so any spare daylight hours can be given over, guilt free, to sewing. We light the big stove in the dining room and I’m happy in there all day, cutting and pressing at the big table before moving to the armchair in the bay to hand finish garments in the last of the afternoon light.

I do almost all our sewing for the year in the winter months. By February, the emphasis is very much on summer clothing: simple cotton frocks and skirts and whatever else is needed. I like to have an easy quilt on the go, so that I can make a block here or there when a spot of making is required and I don’t have time to dive into dressmaking. But in January, you’ll usually find me making any winter clothes that my wardrobe is lacking. And this year, what was lacking was most definitely a warm pair of versatile trousers.

These trousers are inspired by all those button-up trousers that men wear in period dramas – you know, the pale beige trews sported by Mr Darcy and his friend Bingley, for example. Rather than a complicated fit involving a fly, or the unflattering bulk of an elastic waist, I wanted a simple button front. I also wanted a appealing cut, and the simple lines of peg trousers look elegant on everyone, in my opinion. The beauty of this design is that the button closure, combined with the easy fit of the peg style, means that you don’t have to worry about fit. Simply make your trousers in the correct size, try them on, and sew the buttons in the right place for a perfect fit. Trouser fitting doesn’t get any easier than this.

I made my first pair of these last winter, from a gorgeous dotted chambray, using scraps of Liberty Maybelle for the pockets. As you can see from the photos, they look equally good styled for older and younger models. The lovely Ella wore them in a way I never would, and I loved their funked-up cool. In fact, I loved them so much that I wanted a version to carry me through the cooler months, so made another pair from a soft wool tweed. They work equally well in any soft and drapey fabric and are ridiculously comfortable. What’s more, they look good with everything. Dress them up with heels for work, or down with boots, pumps or sandals for home. Make the pockets from scraps of something beautiful, as they do peek out in the most delightful way. They also provide the all-important modesty needed with button-up trousers, ensuring that there’s no chance of an unfortunate gaping moment. And because these are a feminine take on the style, and we all know who was really in charge in that particular marriage, I’ve named them after Miss Elizabeth Bennett as was.

This is very much a beginner trouser pattern. If you can sew straight lines and curves on a machine, you can make these. There is some pleating involved around the waistline, and pockets to insert, but these are clearly explained. As you might expect, I’ve put together a fully-photographed tutorial which will be published beginning in January on this blog, and will remain freely available thereafter.

I’d like to run a little giveaway for this pattern, so if you’d like to be in with a chance of winning a free copy, please leave a comment below. To be eligible to win, you need to tell me who you are making the trousers for, and whether or not they will be your first pair. The deadline for entries is midnight (GMT) on Wednesday 9 January 2019. I’ll announce the winner on Thursday 10 January, which is also the day that the pattern will become available in my Etsy shop. The tutorials will be published over four Fridays from Friday 11 January.

Madeleine

Who would you make these trousers for? Will they be your first pair? Leave a comment answering both these questions to be eligible to win a free copy of the pattern.

As I’ll ever be

I have spent quite a bit of this holiday getting ready for the new year. There’s a lot on the books for 2019: a significant increase in work hours, a big birthday, work on the house, more patterns to publish, an outdoor swimming event, a couple of nice holidays… Then there are all the things I want to carry on with: parenting and gardening, ballet, music lessons, reading and crafting and working on my writing. Enough to keep me out of trouble, at any rate.

Yet for all my planning, I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I don’t see the logic in having just one shot at changing habits every year. If I want to change something, I’ll change it, no matter what the calendar says.

I do, though, always feel a shift during the Christmas holidays. It’s less to do with dates than the passing of the winter solstice, the subtle lengthening of the days, and the inevitability of the spring to come. Winter is here, and it won’t last forever. So I find myself making preparations, and urging others to do the same.

This year, as every other since we’ve lived in this house with its big old garden, we’ve had a family day out there, hacking and chopping and pruning until it is in a fit state to leave until it greens again. We filled two enormous builders’ sacks with evergreen waste to haul to the council compost facility, and have a heap of branches by the fire pit just waiting for den-building and a spot of chicken-proofing before an enormous bonfire one dull weekend to come.

As is also always the way, my focus has shifted away from knitting to sewing. I love to pull all my fabric out in the quiet days after Christmas, and write little labels assigning projects to each length. This year, though, I tried something new. Conscious of the fact that my time and attention are going to be stretched, I went ahead and cut every single one of my projects for the coming season. I have to give full credit for this to Jo at Three Stories High, who wrote a post about this in November. I have to admit, I read it and thought that while it was a good idea, it wasn’t for me, because I don’t like to have more than one work in progress on the go at a time. But when I was writing my labels, I realised that I probably wasn’t going to want to draft a new skirt pattern on a Saturday after the cleaning and shopping and ballet runs. I certainly wasn’t going to be in the mood for grading boys’ waistcoat pieces for the upcoming dance show. And I would probably put off dyeing the background fabric for my 5″ scrap quilt when faced with another week’s worth of laundry. Besides, in my head, a length of fabric is a work in progress the moment I pay for it. So I got on with it.

First I pulled out my tailored skirt block and drafted a new style I want to develop.

I drafted a bias-cut cami, and some new underthings, and cut up a stack of old clothes into scrap-quilt squares. There are also three bags and two lined zipped pouches, ready for some simple evening stitching.

I bought a couple of packets of Dylon and turned a ripped sheet, old pillowcase, stained dress shirt and boringly white fat quarter into grey background fabric.

And then I cut out 197 background squares in various shades of grey.

I dealt with all other the leftover pieces straight away, and now my quilts are ready to sew.

I graded a waistcoat pattern for Seb and the other boy in his ballet class, and cut all the pieces.

Then I tidied my little studio, including my sewing drawer. All that’s left uncut are two lengths of fabric for pattern tutorials (because I need to photograph the process) and one piece of rather lovely Liberty that I suspect is destined to be used whole, on the back of a quilt.

Everything else is ready for garments, bags, pouches or quilts.

And then I set my space up to carry on with my 2 1/2″ postage stamp quilt.

Not all the days have been quite as purposeful, though. I’ve been going for lots of long leisurely swims with John or one of the children for company. I’ve done some very relaxed piano practice. There has been a lot of lounging around watching films and knitting up my latest design. We’ve been for a few lovely sunshine-y strolls, including one down into the Hole of Horcum yesterday, when the purples and greens and oranges of the winter landscape delighted us all. We’ve been planning lots other of walks for the coming Sundays, with the odd pub lunch thrown in, as well as other nice things to do together in our downtime. And there’s a fiendishly difficult jigsaw in progress on the dining table.

Mostly, though – and especially in the week to come – I am going to be attempting the impossible, in trying to store up as much rest as possible for the weeks ahead. So yes, I will definitely be having that second cup of tea in bed, and perhaps doing a few rounds of colourwork before I get up. There’s nothing urgent, just now. Everything is as ready as it’s going to be for the weeks and months ahead. Now we just need to remember to enjoy them.

Madeleine

Are you ready for – and looking forward to – the new year? What does it hold for you?

Merry Christmas, everyone

Whether you’re someone I know in person, or an online friend, a subscriber or someone who just drops in from time to time, someone who celebrates Christmas or for whom it is just another day, may I wish you all the best over the coming days. I hope that the final days of 2018 are peaceful, and that 2019 brings good things to you all.

I don’t normally do pictures from around the house, but the elves have been at work so it seems churlish not to.

From a change of lightshade in the hall:

to a set of nesting Father Christmasses:

a row of paper trees:

and a fully festooned bedroom:

everyone has been decorating in their favourite ways this year.

Today we’ll put up the tree and bring in the holly and the ivy. I’ll cook a ham and decorate the cake, and wine will most certainly be mulled. It’s my favourite day of all.

Whatever your plans, I hope you have a lovely time. Take care, and I look forward to seeing you again in the new year.

Madeleine

A small, sustainable wardrobe: in the middle (and an announcement)

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

Thanks once again to Ella for being my stylist and model this summer – I’ve included a few more of her gorgeous photos in this post.

***

I’ll start today with a little announcement. Come the new year, I will be working outside the home rather more hours than I have been of late. Between my outside-the-home job and my patterns, I will easily be working full time. This has, of course, caused quite a lot of head-scratching about how exactly I’m going to fit everything in, and while some things are not yet decided (do I plant a vegetable garden this year? refuse all fleeces?), other things are. One change that I will have to make is in the frequency of my blogging. From January I’ll be writing just one post a week here, plus any tutorials for patterns that running. I am, however, determined to bring out the patterns that I have been working on, so watch out for six new ones to appear between now and the end of the academic year.

One of the other things that crossed my mind was what I was going to wear on these extra days at work. After all, I am increasing my days quite considerably, and don’t have the most enormous wardrobe in the world. For a moment, I did consider getting my sewing machine out and making a few extra items, but then sanity kicked in and I remembered how much I needed to get done over the past few weeks in order to keep those patterns coming out. So instead I had a rummage in my wardrobe and realised that I already had more than enough.

The thing is, most of my clothes are neither terribly smart nor terribly casual. The vast majority fall somewhere in the middle. And while this may seem to be a stroke of luck, I had actually planned it this way. Apart from a smart dress:

my cocktail dress:

some very scratty trousers:

a t-shirt that I embroidered for myself:

and most of my knits:

all of my clothes can be dressed up or down pretty easily.

Of course, I didn’t think this up for myself. There was a time when I had two parallel wardrobes: one for work and one for home. But over the past few years, as the amount I’ve worked outside the home has gone up and down, and as I’ve got a bit older and wanted to look presentable more of the time, I’ve moved towards having a more versatile set of clothes.

Put simply, this means that I need fewer clothes. It means that, when life takes an unexpected turn, I am at least able to dress for the occasion. It means less shopping, which means less waste. And it means that I have learned some rookie styling skills at long last.

To make a small wardrobe full of in-the-middle clothes work, you need to either be interested in putting outfits together on a daily basis (no thank you) or just spend a couple of hours putting together and photographing a load of outfits, right down to the jewellery and tights. I did this in the spring, and have to confess that it was a revelation. My already versatile wardrobe went from being okay to being really quite nice, thanks to a bit of forward planning. I have neither the time or the inclination to put outfits together on a daily basis. But knowing that I could just choose the next appropriate outfit on my list made me reasonably well-dressed with minimal effort, which is always a win in my book.

There are countless books and blogs about how to dress things up and down, and you probably know more about it than I do, anyway. So really, all this post is saying is this: the next time you add something to your wardrobe, think about where it sits on the smart/ casual spectrum. The higher proportion of your clothes that sit in the middle, the smaller your wardrobe can be.

For the curious, I’ve got six outfits lined up, put together from that dress:

and another off the peg dress from People Tree, and a couple of blouses:

plus my A-Line skirt:

and my new trousers, which I did make last week, and which I can’t wait to share with you. Here is the summer version, to tide you over until I can show you the woollen ones:

plus my heels and some leather flats and a cardigan and a scarf. Job done, sans shopping. Phew.

Ironically, I am now off into town to see if I can find a denim skirt in any of the charity shops, because I’m going to end up needing all my in-the-middle clothes for work and have nothing left to wear at home except those mended chinos and Seb’s tracksuit bottoms again. Perhaps I should take my own advice and buy something more versatile… but then again, rules are made to be broken.

Madeleine

Do you have separate work and home (and going out) wardrobes, or lots of overlap? What works best for you?

The best bits

Sometime in October we decided that we were going to keep Christmas really simple this year, and just do the best bits. So over a few evening meals (and telephone calls to Ben at university) we established what everyone’s very favourite parts of Christmas were, and got rid of the rest.

Some of the choices were things I could have anticipated: the roast dinner is staying, as are most of the trimmings. John and Seb – its biggest fans – are taking care of that. A visit from Father Christmas is mandatory and, as I told the children, fine by me as I have nothing to do with it. Ben and Ilse insist that it wouldn’t be Christmas without an afternoon spent watching Christmas films, eating lebkuchen and making paper chains from the recycling bin. Fliss loves snuggling up to watch whatever children’s special the BBC has conjured up, as they are always her favourite books from when she was little. There will be presents. And candles. And I am going to boil and glaze a ham on Christmas Eve, and serve it with garlicky potatoes dauphinoise and a mountain of steamed brussels sprout tops. That’s my favourite moment.

While we have never gone in for extravagant Christmases, this one feels especially relaxed. We’ve gone to the odd advent service, including the school one, held in York Minster, where Fliss sang in the choir. John and I made a list and did all the Christmas shopping in town in a single afternoon. We took the children in a couple of weeks ago to enjoy the lights and buy their little gifts to one another. By far and away the biggest effort I’ve made this Christmas has been in all the knitting, and that is neither stressful nor a chore in my book. We’ve put up the children’s advent calendars and a few strings of fairy lights, and the house feels just a little more twinkly than usual. I haven’t even been tempted by a poinsettia, happy instead with the cyclamen blooming festively on the dining table.

What I am looking forward to now is the coming weekend, when Ben comes home for the holidays and we’ll all be together again. There will be a couple of highly excitable days where the house gets festooned in paper chains and greenery from the garden. We’ll decorate the tree on Christmas Eve and I’ll enjoy watching Ilse’s face as the presents emerge from hiding places all around the house.

And after the day itself, I’m looking forward to a few long walks, a bit of non-gift knitting and probably the start of a new scrap quilt. Lazy mornings and lackadaisical breakfast-come-lunches. Long evenings in front of the fire. Watching the children play endless rounds of Monopoly and – the new favourite – Dungeons and Dragons. Just a restful winter holiday at home, really.

Before you start thinking that this all sounds a little too lovely to be true, I can assure you that there are bound to be some squabbles, let-downs and grumpy moments. There are also, given my total lack of a list, bound to be some things that I’ve forgotten (crackers? pudding?). I’ve just decided not to care, because nobody else seems to. After all, as long as we’ve all got our very best bits of the festival, everyone should be happy, and that is probably the best bit of all as far as I’m concerned.

Madeleine

Are you doing anything differently this Christmas, or do you do it exactly the same every year? However you’re doing it – or whether you’re not celebrating at all – may I wish you a peaceful, restful break.

A small, sustainable wardrobe: sticking to the plan

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

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Do you like my new trousers? I did, about three weeks ago, when I had envisaged several days of leisurely sewing and tutorial writing. I had thought I’d be wearing them by the time the cold really began to set in. Before the rush of Christmas (and work in the run up to Christmas) began. Before I was squeezing awards nights and advent services on top of the usual evening activities of piano lessons and swimming and ballet. But alas, thanks to some computer programming issues, I’ve not been able to start them until this morning. Now I have a very limited timeframe to make them and photograph the tutorial and test the pattern. I’m not loving those ‘trousers’ quite so much any more.

The temptation to just go into town and buy a pair is pretty strong. I could combine it with a trip to the big central library, and have tea and cake with my mum. We could have a little wander around the lovely medieval streets of York and drink in the Christmassy ambience (and maybe some mulled wine). I could simply hand over some money and a lovely new pair of warm woollen trousers would be mine. There must be a nice pair out there somewhere.

If I’m honest, I haven’t even looked, because if I did find some, the temptation to buy them would be pretty strong. Today I am wearing a pair of Seb’s age 12-13 navy M&S tracksuit bottoms, because my other (mended!) pair of trews is in the wash and trousers are what I need to wear today. Fortunately, they are warm and comfy. Unfortunately, they are not quite my style. And while I would happily be seen in public in them (I wore them to the pool last night), it’s not an image I’m all that keen to cultivate.

The thing about trying to have a small, sustainable wardrobe is that it involves trying to stick to the plan even when the plan fails. And in our have-it-now age, that can be tricky. So I’ve reminded myself of why I’m going to stick to the plan. Why it matters. Because knowing that something actually matters is always my very best motivator.

  1. I’ve already bought the fabric. If I buy a pair of trousers, I’ll have a load of obsolete fabric sitting around. For some people, this is just stash; for me, it’s a waste.
  2. Even if I do buy some other trousers, I’ll probably use the fabric I’ve already bought to write and photograph the tutorial at some point. Which will result in two pairs of trousers, when I only need one.
  3. I do actually have the time to get it all done. I just need to get my head down and not stop until I get there. 
  4. I know that I never like ready-made clothes as much as homemade ones. I have got so used to my own fit, my own details, my own choice of fabrics and finishes that I find fault with even the nicest shop-bought clothes.
  5. Honestly? I don’t value shop-bought clothes as much as home made clothes. I know, I know. Even though I appreciate that someone, somewhere in the world put effort into making the garment, I am much more likely to donate it when a better alternative comes along. Given that I’ve got to make a pair of trousers anyway (for the tutorial), a bought pair will most likely end up being guiltily donated sooner or later. A homemade pair, on the other hand, will be worn beyond what is probably decent and then cut up to insulate potholders or something.

(And yes, I know that I could just make the tutorial pair in another size and gift them, but I really want a pair of the trousers I designed in wool, as I love them so much in chambray.)

Whether we make our own clothes or are shopping for a more eco-friendly wardrobe, we all come up against temptations to throw the plan out the window. I suspect that shoppers often see something really lovely when they weren’t looking for it, and have to resist the temptation to take it home. Makers might spend ages on a garment and then be really disappointed by the fit or finish. Sometimes it does us good to change our minds and deviate from the plan. They are our plans, after all.

But I’m sticking to this one, because I know that it really is the best way forward. After all, it’s just a pair of trousers. It’s only clothing, and I’m not going to end up naked if I don’t get these finished on time. So I’m going to end this post here, and get stuck into that basket of fabric and notions. With any luck, I’ll have a pair of trousers I love before too long.

Madeleine

Am I alone in finding it hard to stick to the plan sometimes? What are your pitfalls, and how do you talk yourself out of them? On the other hand, when do you go off piste?