Monday, 23 September 2013

Night Time is the Right Time

Although the quality of light is not really conducive for it, night time is a good time for actually getting on with making things. Machine sewing is good at night, but possibly not for the neighbours if the walls are thin. 

When I lived in my little crow's nest over Edinburgh there'd be noise all night, but a different range of sounds from the day. At night there would be the clatter of bottles being emptied into giant wheelie bins at the back of the pubs, the faulty air conditioning fan outside, the whoops and cries of folk out for the night, singing, arguments, the traffic... Meanwhile I'd be trundling on at my sewing machine, waiting for the kettle to click as my signal to stop for a break. 

There's something satisfying about the level of concentration that builds up during the evening, that last burst of energy before sleep. It's the kind of concentration that will tolerate irritating music on the radio rather than allow you to get up to change the channel and break the thread of activity. It's the concentration that blots out the discomfort of sitting for hours cross-legged, that numbs the bladder so that when you eventually come back to the world you can barely stagger to the loo in time.  

So it was one night that I was sitting on the floor trying to regrade a knitting pattern for a sample garment needed at work the following morning. The radio was on; I remember registering there was some kind of drone coming out of the speakers. Every now and then there would be an almost instinctively felt change in the sound, not enough to distract, but soothing in the way that a slight movement after a lengthy period of standing still brings relief. It went on...and on... Somehow, it seemed to set some kind of order in my brain (which is not on particularly friendly terms with numbers) and I had most of my pattern regraded as the drone ended. 

The radio programme was Late Junction on Radio 3. I think the track must have lasted at least 15 minutes. I don't know many radio programmes that would give up 15 minutes of airtime to a church organ drone. I don't know why I didn't scribble down the track title, although I got the name of the composer/performer. I don't know why I let it go for years without seeking it out. 

But then the other day as it started to sink in that I will have to "do" some Maths on my new course, I had a mini freak-out tempered by the recollection of that evening of church organ-powered brain efficiency. I will do my sums at night when my brain is at its top setting. I will listen to my newly arrived cd of Charlemagne Palestine's Schlingen Blaengen (a full 71 minutes of splendid organ drone) and see what transpires. 

Monday, 26 August 2013

Hello Sunshine

Over the past couple of weeks we've had more wet days than sunny ones, but it doesn't matter. We've seen the sun, it was nice while it was here. I will remember what it looks like in case it doesn't fully appear again until next year. 

Have a look at this...

It is not a Pantone colour chip, although they have probably patented this particular shade along with every other colour that ever existed. It's the sky above my house, taken earlier in the summer. After three years of crap, wash-out summers, I thought I'd snap this to enjoy in the winter. It's probably also the best composed photo I have produced for this blog.  

It actually got hot enough for us to do a bit of wild swimming this summer. There was a beautiful quiet place, so still and peaceful it looked like the setting for a low-budget horror film. The glamour was provided by my friend R, looking very elegant in her Esther Williams 1950s swimsuit.

Somehow, whenever I go wild swimming I find myself enjoying the sunlight and scenery, pushing through the water at a gentle pace thinking "this is nice", then I start to wonder if there might be a pike waiting to savage us under the water. It has never happened, yet as soon as I think about it, the idea of swimming loses its charm and I retreat to the bank. On that occasion we got hassled by some creatures that looked like caddisflies which kept nipping us so getting back in the water provided some protection. It did at least take my mind off the possibility of a lurking pike. 

"Look out!"

Creature from the black lagoon's relaxing swim was marred by unsettling thoughts of pike attack

There has been little time for creative activities although I have finished a simple a-line skirt that had been draped over the back of my sewing chair for a good while. It has subsequently been worn to work a few times, as I have to look a bit smarter in my not-so-new job. So here it is, having been worn and washed a few times... 

Purple mini-cord a-line skirt
This skirt actually looks quite nice on, but there is no one about to take a picture of me in it and I haven't had much luck with the "selfie" approach to garment photography so far. This picture reminds me that as much as sewing has been a feature of this blog, so has bad photography. 

I did a bit of knitting when we went on holiday to the Borders, but that was blighted by my inability to pay attention to what I'm supposed to be doing. I was going great guns until I realised one of my needles was the wrong size. Subsequently, the knitting had been shoved into a bag and ignored. However, this fabulous summer we have been experiencing will come to an end at some point and cardigans will be required. Now that my studying is over (until October) there really is no excuse not to knit and get ready for Autumn. So far I've got the back knitted (with the correct needles) and am about to start a sleeve. Since I seem to have at least a two-month gap between posts there's a possibility it might be finished for my next write-up! 

Ollie-bird had been doing well after surviving a cat attack where s/he sustained a broken leg and a gash to the side of the head. Last seen, s/he was still slightly bald, but the leg was mending well. There's so much for birds to eat in the garden this time of year that are probably tastier than cheese (if grubs and beetles are your thing, that is) so we only get fleeting glances of him/her.  

So next up, hopefully another completed nomad jacket. I was also hoping to come up with my own version of a mock kilt I bought over the summer but need to get suitable fabric before I can tackle this. From October there probably won't be much time for sewing and knitting as I have signed up to do a social sciences course with the Open University. It's nice to have something planned for the winter months and to gain a sense of moving forward after a long period of feeling stuck in a rut.   We'll see how it goes...

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Little Birdie

Suddenly it seems that after a long period of treading water, exciting things are starting to happen. There has been some sewing going on lately, usually late at night into the small hours. Also, a bit of studying (nice to get the brain fired up again), and preparation for a new job starting next week.  

Beaky, our family blackbird died the other week aged (at least) 8 during an intense hailstorm. The average age for blackbirds is about 2 1/2 years. He was looking after one of his newly fledged chicks until he died, a task we took on which entailed chopping up earthworms. Chicky (officially called Ollie) is doing well and visits the back door for snacks of blueberries and cheese. S/he can dig up his own worms and grubs now. 
Until I started keeping the company of blackbirds, I couldn't really tell one bird from another. They all seem to look pretty similar, especially at a distance. But Beaky had a bright yellow-orange crooked beak and an idiosyncratic way of moving so he was easy to spot, and the more I watched the birds in our garden, the easier it was to tell them apart. Sometimes he would sit with us and sunbathe in that funny way birds do with their beaks open and their wings stretched out. He and Mr K spent most dry mornings having breakfast together at the bottom of the garden. 

It got me thinking about a statement I heard when I was doing some work training years ago -"all behaviour is the communication of an unmet need". I don't know if Beaky sat with us because he just liked to hang out with us or was there another specific purpose - to show other birds he had big friends who'd look out for him, or to keep us sweet so we'd continue to provide him with snacks... if the statement can always be proven, how do qualities like free will or altruism fit in - I suppose they don't..? Do we ever do anything purely as an abstract or ultimately non self-serving act? I hope so, I don't want to accept a mechanistic explanation for everything we do. 

It has been strange in the garden in the evenings; Beaky's son Frankenbird leads the evening song from the roof of our house and appears to be top bird now. The birds seem to fight less, maybe because in Beaky's absence they each have a bit more territory. The swallows are nesting in the garage, forgiven for crapping all over our bikes and the lawn mower because they are such amazing acrobats and come back to us every year from their exotic adventures. 

Back to the sewing then...the impending new work role means no more turning up for work in manky old jeans. I am going to have to look a little smarter; I might even have to get a proper hairdo. I have bought myself some sensible new work shoes that remind me of the pastry lids on scotch pies. My younger self would have been horrified to even contemplate wearing such ugly shoes but man, they are comfortable!   
Scotch pie

I have nipped in the waistband of last year's sewing challenge trousers to improve the fit and have them in wearable condition for work. I've also been involved in a sewing bee at work, on the right is a picture showing a wee detail of a background I made for others to embellish. I used bondaweb, three different fabrics and some sharp scissors. Other people have subsequently added a ship and some breakers to it using applique and stitching. 

Next month will be busy as I settle into my new job and get started on my next course assignment. I'm hoping there'll be time for a quick sewing or knitting project. A friend is due a baby in July so I should get something on the needles quickly...

Not much info to share on the new job yet. I will find out more when I get there, but it sounds like a bit of an adventure - still social care - but with more out-and-about activities and some research. Sensible shoes will come in handy.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

I Hear Music

Creations of the world's ultimate fibre artist
Here is the handiwork of spiders after exposure to psychoactive drugs. The image in the top left of the series is a regular web. The rest show how different drugs affect the spider's productive abilities - caffeine clearly is not a useful start to the spider's day! The drugs were administered by feeding drug dosed flies. I suppose a teeny-tiny bifter or miniature cup of espresso might be cute but impractical. (On a tangent but have a look at these clothed fleas from Tring Stuffed Animal Museum).

Six months ago I got moderate unilateral hearing loss during a virus. So the GP gave me an assortment of meds to try and sort it, including pseudoephedrine (see benzedrine/speed web). I certainly noticed a boost in energy but not in a way that felt particularly productive. I did have a lot of great plans in the middle of the night (I was awake quite a lot); not really the best time for using the sewing machine though. 

Since then I've had a comprehensive hearing test at the Infirmary. Apparently I have bat-quality hearing, so now I have to stop complaining that music still doesn't sound right to me. The pitch is wrong in one ear but I can hear it well enough. I should just get back into listening to music and enjoying sound. The birds have been knocking out some cracking tunes by our bedroom window at 0545 each morning.

So there have been no blog entries as I attempted to keep assorted plates spinning. There has been a bit of sewing - just another Burda A line skirt for work using some stash fabric. Not a very exciting project, but I will post a pic of this in a few days.

Keeping on a spider theme, I have started doing some free-arm embroidery after a gap of many years. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to "draw" with the machine. The Bernina 1008 is great for this. I will need to come up with some kind of project that needs a bit of doodling...

Nomad sweater design F
Although we're in April and we've had a good few sunny days, it's been so cold I've been tempted to knit more than sew. I've got my eye on some Wendy Norse chunky yarn in a warm dark blue. I was thinking of using this Sirdar pattern from my Nomad booklet. 

It has been cold enough for me to waste an hour looking for the knitted frogman suit with integral balaclava I once found on a Bulgarian website in the early days of the (publicly available) internet - sadly it's not there any more. However, that would take a lot of yarn and time so I will probably settle for this plain sweater without the cowl neck piece.

So projects on the go are: a breton sweater for Little Creature, this sweater on the left (trying out a tension swatch just now), a short distance learning course. I have also threatened to make some kind of vintage style hat for my niece this year. Nice to have assorted irons in the fire. Happy Beltane!

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Hazy Shade of Winter

I'm managing to keep some momentum going and have made two new garments already this year... 

I started with this simple short sleeve top from the February issue of Burdastyle.  

I had just enough of the red bamboo jersey fabric that I used for a Vogue double layer top last year. The fabric's a bit clingy but I thought it would do for a toile. It's actually turned out ok, and I'll probably get some wear out of this. Mr K suggested the ruching at the hips as it was quite long in the body. Here it is then:
I seem to have a ruched neck in this as well :o(

I was hoping to present some classy pics of this top, but alas it was not to be. Earlier, I asked Mr K if he would take some photos and he grumbled  a bit about having to set up lights but agreed to do it. I wasn't expecting lighting but thought "Great! Deluxe photos at last!" My photos are usually a bit fuzzy and gloomy. Unfortunately Mr K is having his pre-bedtime snooze. So it's back to fuzzy pics and exotic locations - this photo shoot took place in a bathroom in Scotland.

Made room for the tail
Saddie's new dress
Garment no 2 is rather small: I made a dress for Little Creature's cuddly rabbit. LC has been dressing her in a manky old baby vest for the past few months; before that she was naked. I decided it was time for her to have a proper dress so we went to the sewing shop so LC could choose fabric for her. He chose some fabric for another rabbit of a different shape and size so I'll have to figure a pattern out for that too.

By the time it gets to February, I'm restless for some signs of Spring. It's definitely on its way! Little Creature has been on snowdrop patrol in the garden and the birds are tuning up for their spring songs. Beaky, our family blackbird (who will be 8 this spring) is much more vocal as he hops about on our doorstep waiting for cheese and grapes. 
I'm encouraged by these natural cycles and patterns, and living in the countryside, it feels easier to connect with them. I've enjoyed the snow this year (or more specifically, the sledging) and the clear starlit nights when I've gone out to get the coal. 

My friend G keeps me updated with texts about the state of the cosmos and what to look out for; he has a good understanding of where things are up there. Years ago when we were neighbours, he chapped my door late one evening and said "Come out and see Mars". So we stomped up to Johnston Terrace at the foot of Edinburgh Castle in pyjamas and coats to look at Mars. It was beautiful, like a new-minted penny. In spite of the light pollution of the city we had a clear view. A passerby stopped to ask us what we were looking at. She was on holiday from Australia and enjoying an evening stroll. The three of us stood and looked at Mars for a while, and then went on our separate ways.  

Recently, I read an interview with former Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson who was discussing - among other things - receiving a diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer and how he is spending the short time he has left. (If you haven't encountered Dr Feelgood and in particular, Wilko's charismatic stage presence, I recommend that you check out this classic performance on the Old Grey Whistle Test). 

Wilko Johnson
"I do want to look at the Great Nebula in Orion, 'cos Orion is passing now with the wintertime, so obviously it's the last chance I've got to see Orion, and I wanna have a look at that. And, especially, I do hope I'm around to see Saturn again, which will be in the sky before too long."

The full article is here. Now when I look at Orion, I have the guitar riff of "Roxette" in my head. It's a welcome, purposeful rhythm.  

Next up project-wise, well I'm not sure...I've got some red denim and a bit of fine corduroy in a lilac colour to use up. Either could be good for a skirt. I'm putting off the 1950s dress for now as I've got a big project at work and some studying coming up. Perhaps it will be a good project for the summer when the evenings are lighter.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win

My year-long "make-a-garment-a-month" challenge is finally over. I've made 12 pieces; one was a bit of a disaster, the rest were successful in varying degrees.  

I set myself this challenge for a range of reasons. One of them was to feel in control of something at a time when, in specific aspects of life, I didn't feel like I had much agency. Looking back, I don't think that was actually the situation, but the choice element of this challenge was very motivating.  

To add to the challenge, I decided I wouldn't buy any clothes during 2012 except underwear or footwear and I pretty much stuck to this until late December when I paid for 1/3 of a swimming costume (the other 2/3 was a gift).  

Every blog entry I have written for this challenge is named after a song (usually one that I like). In most instances, the content of the song had nothing to do with the content of the blog entry. Choosing the titles has been a fun, sometimes time consuming aspect of the project. This one seemed right (from the last Beastie Boys album), and reminded me of something I read on Edinburgh-based poet Graeme Hawley's website:

"In the English language there is this ridiculous rule about double negatives equalling a positive. However, in Scots language negatives are accumulative. The more negatives used, the more negative the statement is".

So maybe I won, maybe not. I missed several deadlines but managed 12 garments in a year, which is a good few more than the previous year. I learned how to use an overlocker, and that making trousers needn't be scary. 

So, a review featuring the best, the most useful, and the worst garments of the year. The worst, by a country mile, goes to this skirt :

The pattern wasn't the problem, it was just my poor choice and effort that made this such a turkey. I chose some old fabric that wasn't right for the job. I should also have made a toile so I could get the fit right, but instead I ploughed right in and this is what I got. It's at the bottom of the wardrobe. I threatened to make it into a bag...this hasn't happened yet.

Next up is my favourite garment of the year. This was an easy pattern, I found lovely fabric for it and felt fabulous wearing the finished dress. I pulled out all the stops with this one as it was for my friend Kath's wedding. I knew she and her gentleman D would be putting Herculean efforts into making everything lovely so that everybody would have a great time, and I wanted to make something suitably smart in honour of their special day. So here it is plus a cocktail hat, which was a last minute project the night before the wedding. The hat was fun to wear (don't usually get to dress up this posh) but when I took it off for the evening do, I had a jaunty angled red line across one side of my forehead where the hat had been. It didn't fade for a few hours! 

Favourite and best garment of the year

Last minute hat worked out nicely

Finally, most useful garment of the year. It aint pretty but it's probably been worn more than anything else I made in 2012. I made another one in a smaller size which is a better fit, but this remains a useful, if not particularly elegant piece of clothing.

Sirdar Nomad Jacket Design E
I'll keep sewing and knitting throughout 2013 (and most likely writing about it), but I won't be setting deadlines. I want time to finish projects to a better standard than I could achieve in the space of a month. Plus it would be good to make time for other adventures...

Memories of a Colour

This is the last garment I made for a challenge to make a garment every month throughout 2012. I set the challenge, made up the rules and often fell foul of them.
Based on gathered top 116 from Burdastyle July 2012

With December being an expensive month already, I used some cotton lawn from stash and a pattern from the July 2012 edition of Burdastyle magazine. It's not the one I intended to make but I had less than a metre of fabric to work with. It's the first time I've traced a pattern from a sewing magazine and it took the use of a headtorch and a fair bit of muttering to get the job done. 

Burdastyle July 2012

The pattern called for double layers of chiffon but I had barely enough to make it with single layers. The project was not helped by my making a cutting error with one of the sleeves as I tried to follow the plot of a spy drama on the telly at the same time. Then I lost the other sleeve, wasted an hour looking for it, but managed to cut two new sleeves from the scrap of fabric I had left. (Won't attempt multi-tasking with scissors again).  

The brown edging is not what I had planned for it but on two different occasions I went to buy bias binding for this project, forgetting to take the fabric with me. Both times I got it wrong, the second time I bought three different colours in the hope that one would be right - this is the most ok of the three, although the contrast is more striking than I would have liked.

And that was the end of my making challenge for 2012. Thanks for reading, and happy new year!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Listen, the Snow is Falling

In the 1970s, when Christmas decorations tended to consist of paper chains and lanterns made of tissue honeycombs that would decompose in the loft before they were needed again, my sister and I started making paper snowflakes to stick on the windows. 

She was pretty nifty with the scissors, so hers were delicate with intricate shapes. I was a few years younger and not yet fully in charge of my hands, and my efforts were more like squashed snowballs with a few holes poked through. The memory of us sitting together, concentrating with scissors and covering the floor with little flecks of paper still cheers me.

Now we are in our forties, still making snowflakes.  There were none for several years when our respective paths wandered onto separate maps. But now, every year she sends me new ones to hang up at Christmas. I still have a quite a few from previous years.

This year I was organised enough to make and send some to her while she has a year off from the scissors and paper. It was a nice thing to do whilst watching the telly, although you need a bag on your lap to catch the confetti.

I also made some for our house. This is the sum total of my scissor-work this month:

This one got a bit mangled after being left on the sofa

Far right: one of my sister's snowflakes

These, along with some lights in the birch tree in the garden, are all we have in the way of Christmas decorations. It's our first Christmas as a smaller family; one of us is missing so it will be a quiet, reflective time. 

Little Creature is so excited about Santa; he and Mr K sent a letter up the chimney and received a confirmation text from an elf administrator at Santa's HQ. Things have changed a bit since we used to write our Christmas letters. 
From Burdastyle July 2012

December is hurtling by and I haven't even traced the pattern for this month's project.  I will be doing a short sleeve blouse pattern from Burdastyle using some printed lawn from stash. It looks easy enough; I think tracing the pattern will be the most time consuming part of the project as it's from the magazine (lots of different pattern pieces overprinted on one sheet).  Not very festive but there's not much fabric and this will come in handy at some point next year.

I've got under a week to do this to complete my year-long challenge....

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Almost Blue

My recent burst of creativity and motivation has collided with an unavoidable round of winter virus bingo, which has meant there have been lots of creative thoughts but not so much in the way of actually making stuff. 

Luckily, I finished the nomad jacket just before the latest virus cranked up to full power. Less fortunately, I misjudged placing the buttonhole (which I wrote into the pattern last time round) and it needed to be a couple of rows higher and closer to the edge by a couple of stitches. Ordinarily this wouldn't seem like much of a big deal; it was only 7 rows to rip back and re-do. It took a few evenings to sort it out and it really could have been done in one. 

A few days in the head-clearing spaciousness of Keswick have helped; not enough energy for big walks but we went for a wander along the lakeside and enjoyed the winter sun. 


The dress I wrote about last month has been deferred into next year - too much to do in December without tracing pattern pieces and making toiles etc. I did buy a linen/cotton blend fabric although I'm not so sure about the colour. I bought it online and it looked much bluer on my screen; it's really more of a lilac. (I also bought some habotai silk to line it as it worked out only slightly more expensive than buying an acetate lining). This is only the latest online purchasing mishap. Previous cock-ups this year included ordering a miniscule hat, and fabric that was too light weight for a skirt. The lightweight fabric will get used for something, not so sure about the hat though.

l-r: purple corduroy, printed lawn, habotai, linen/cotton 
So instead of the dress, I might be making a quick and easy skirt using some stash fabric that Kath gave me (purple corduroy, far left) and a previously tested Burda skirt pattern. Or I might make something from the December issue of Burdastyle which has some interesting patterns. It's the first issue I've bought where I'm not sure what to make first. As ever, there's some weird stuff in there too:

Burdastyle weirdness

Next year I'm hoping to use up some stash fabric and work from patterns I have already. That includes a pile of Burdastyle magazines that I haven't tried yet. Each one has at least one worthwhile pattern in. Unfortunately, during the time I took out my subscription there were some monstrosities in there. This Krystle Carrington biker jacket on the right here is an aberration in an otherwise excellent issue.  

The picture below is of the completed nomad jacket. This is the second one I've made, but this time using yarn closer in gauge to the recommended yarn. The colour scheme is a bit 1980s but I'm happy with the fit. I'm pleased to report it looks better on me than it does on my trusty dummy Maria. I'll try and replace this fuzzy pic with a clearer, human one soon.

Nomad Jacket


Thursday, 15 November 2012

I'm Not Done

Now that Autumn is here and it's only a few weeks to the shortest day, I've been trying to get organised for the dark evenings and keep busy. So far I've felt quite positive about the approach of Winter so long as I have plenty to do. (Well actually there's no shortage of things to do - I could be clearing out the understairs cupboard or cleaning the oven).

Butterick Retro 1956 Dress B5813
I've just bought a couple of patterns I've had my eye on for a while, with a plan to make one of them as my December project. The dress pattern arrived (see right) arrived ahead of the blouse so I may well source fabric for that and keep the blouse project for the New Year. I'm inclined towards a linen/cotton blend for this dress.

My year long challenge ends in December and I've been wondering what sort of creative plans I should make for next year. It's been both a pleasure and a bind at times, but has definitely helped me feel I'm in a good place mentally. 

The deadlines have been helpful in motivating me to complete projects, but I think sometimes the quality of the finished item could have been better had I taken more time. So rather than make a garment a month next year, I am going to aim for a small number of projects and see how long they take - I expect some will be quick, some may just need more than a month. I will keep going though.

So far I am up to date with my challenge. I have included the spider costume in my list although it's not for me, it is a wearable item. (Perhaps that's cheating - I will need to think about this). LC wanted to wear it for the next two days after Halloween and has been asking to wear the tights again. I suppose they might come in handy for outdoor adventures on cold days. 

This week saw the start of the second series of The Hour on BBC2. I watched all of series one; it was a little uneven script-wise, but I did enjoy the outfits very much. Last night's episode did not disappoint (not least because Peter Capaldi is now in it and I think he's always interesting to watch). As of next episode, I will be keeping a pencil and sketchbook handy. Quite what I'll be doing with any doodles I make I don't know. I think making the pattern for last month's spider costume has possibly given me delusions of excessive ability!

Romola Garai gets to wear some snappy dresses

Wages at the BBC must have been ok even then.

I am quite far on with my second Nomad jacket. I decided to try the coloured yoke version but with long sleeves. I'm halfway up the second sleeve and have completed the back and front pieces. I remember the slowest bit of this pattern was the pick-ups for the yoke and rib bands up the front. I'm trying to crack on with the knitting the pieces so I can take my time with the pick-ups. I'm aiming to post a pic of the finished jacket by the end of the month.
Won't be wearing with headband or feathers

Over this past month I've worn a few of the things I've made including items that I wasn't too pleased with initially. The Vogue long sleeve top has been a good weight to wear now it's getting colder and I've even got round to wearing the Burda a-line skirt (not the really awful one though). 

I've had no more opportunities to wear my 1947 dress since Kath's wedding, but Christmas isn't far away and I won't be cooking the dinner....