Thursday, 24 October 2013

Patchwork circle skirt

A little while ago I decided to make my 6 year old daughter a skirt. She loves all things swirly so we chose a tiered circle skirt with an elasticated waist; I figured that would be relatively straight forward and forgiving in terms of technical skill, and should end up with the requisite flounciness in the end.

Hunting for instructions as to how to get the lengths of each tier right, I came across this pattern, on Indietutes and like a fool I thought, "Hey, that looks pretty. I could do that!" 

Full instructions:

Noting her comment that "It will take much longer to sew the last layer versus the first, but I'm thinking that if you've gotten this far, you won't be giving up" I decided to do fewer layers than her, and to use larger squares, so we ended up with 4 rows of 5" squares (including seam allowances).

I chose a mix of fabrics from my stash, more or less obeying the instruction to try and use similar weights of fabric, and otherwise being guided by what my daughter chose. She stood next to me at the sewing machine, passing me each new square to add to the strips as I sewed them. Looking at the finished article, it seems a shame we had so little of the bright pink, and that I didn't manage to distribute the three squares we had more evenly!

The gathering part was the most time-consuming, and I have to say it will be a while before I next willingly embark on something that ends up with a bottom tier roughly 4 metres long! But, as Indietutes foresaw, I wasn't about to give up at that point, so I battled on, dividing the length in quarters and gathering them up that way, using hundreds of pins before I machine sewed the whole length. 

This project has also allowed me to make friends with my trusty little sewing machine again. It's never been the same since I tried to hem a pair of cords 4 years ago, broke the needle and jammed the engine (resulting in a repair job that cost almost as much as a new machine). This time it managed even the thicker seams around the waistband so I feel like we're on good terms again, Janome and I.

Only trouble is, now my 2 year old wants a swirly skirt too...

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Arboretum art - Andy Goldsworthy

Last weekend we headed back to that old favourite haunt, the Harcourt Arboretum, to see how it looks now autumn is beginning to encroach. We found some wonderful fungi:


And beautiful colours in the leaves:

These were exactly what I was looking for, since I'd persuaded my children that they'd really love to collect a whole heap of beautifully coloured autumn leaves and help to make an Andy Goldsworthy style work of art.

They happily embraced the idea of collecting things, but were apparently not listening to the more precise elements of the brief, so we ended up with a less uniform collection of leaves than I had envisaged. That’ll teach me to be a perfectionist and then ask children to help me! We headed for the rather fabulous new barn and began to sort out our motley array of leaves, to see what we could make of it.

I had visions of beautiful concentric rings of perfectly uniform leaves, but actually I think the more varied texture provided by the different shapes and sizes is rather appealing. And I like to think that the individually placed leaves radiating out make it much more dramatic than the original central circle would have been on its own. (Though I must credit my husband with that idea, since by then I was being grumpy because our children had bounced off together to dig up stones in a rather fine patch of mud they'd found, and were no longer interested in my grand artistic creation...)

There's more about the barn here and here if you’re interested (scroll down to the bottom for the bit about building the barn) - it really is a beautiful structure. 

And the rest of the Arboretum is in pretty fine form too. This is the Lime walk - still looking fabulously green:

Do you have any good recommendations for outdoor art with children? Or for holding their attention to the end? (Maybe waiting till they're older will work on this one!)

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Fire engines and a piece of industrial history

Two weeks ago was this year's Oxford Preservation Trust’s Open Doors weekend, on 14-15 September, so we hot-footed it into town, brochure in hand, to find some hidden gems our children might enjoy.

Our first stop was the Fire Station, which was a big hit with my girls: they got to climb into the driver’s seat and beep the horn of the fire engine, and best of all, they had a go at knocking the hat off a child-sized dummy with the hose:

The firemen explained all their kit, from the boots already standing in the legs of their thick over-trousers, to the breathing apparatus stowed behind the back seats in the cab. 

It was busy, with hoards of excited children (and adults!) and there were yellow plastic fireman's hats to buy too - what more could a little one want?

From there we walked up Rewley Road to the old swing-bridge on the disused railway line from the Rewley Road rail station (which stood on the site now occupied by the Said Business School, and was moved to the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre at Quainton Road railway station). 

The Oxford Preservation Trust are working on plans for a complete restoration of the bridge and recent work has included the clearing of the surrounding undergrowth so you can see what remains of the bridge and its mechanism. It’s beautiful, in an industrial kind of a way, and well worth a visit if you're in the neighbourhood.

Did you do Open Doors this weekend? What are your top recommendations for next year? Non-Oxfordians, do you have a local equivalent? Any favourites you'd care to share?

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Getting my mojo back!

The school holidays are not an easy time for those of us who fit our work-from-home crafting in round our children, and I'm guilty of neglecting my jewellery work over the summer. But it wasn't just the necessity of spending more time outside in the sunshine with the children (oh the hardship!) that kept me from my jewellery tools. I can admit, now it's passed, that I had fallen out of love with my work. It's hard to say when exactly, or why, but it wasn't exciting me any more, and I was considering giving up altogether.

But things have been ticking over quite nicely without me at the Eynsham Emporium, so when I collected my last batch of earnings, I thought it was time to invest in some new beads. Over on Etsy I've been working in partnership with Anna Timbrell of Skittish Designs to critique each other's shops, and that process has helped me to focus. I went back over my designs and tried to pinpoint which ones I liked most and why.

Rose quartz and garnet bracelet

I realised what I've been missing lately is the earthy quality of semi-precious stones, which it what I used most when I first started out. They're just so damn beautiful!

Rock crystal necklace

Having made that decision I spent several happily indecisive days filling and emptying baskets in various on-line bead suppliers, until I hit upon some that just sang out.

Amethyst & amazonite bracelet

Suddenly I couldn't wait to pack the kids off to bed and get on with making things again - it feels like it did when I started the business, when I was making things I'd love to wear and feeling that pang of regret every time someone actually bought one and I had to pack it up and let it go out into the big wide world... And I can't wait to invest in another batch of beads. Happy days!

Amethyst & amazonite earrings

In keeping with the natural beauty of the semi-precious stones, I've treated myself to a slab of real slate (in the form of a sample floor tile from the local builders' merchant) to use for my photography. I'm really pleased with the results - what do you think?

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Destroying a book?

A dilemma for you, my gentle readers: this is my childhood copy of A Traveller in Time, by Alison Uttley:

It was one of my absolute favourite books, first read at an age when I hadn't previously encountered the name Penelope and pronounced it to rhyme with antelope. Although traumatised by the fate of Anthony Babington (no spoilers here - he was a real Elizabethan) I was completely drawn in to the extraordinary world of Thackers, and used to emerge from reading sessions feeling slightly dazed by the modern world of a noisy family house. I must have read it many many times over the years, and it still conjures the same feelings, scents and flavours in my head. (Can a book have a flavour? If not, what's the word for that brain-hangover a book leaves?)

Sadly, like many well-loved paperbacks of its age, it has now fallen apart, and an almost identical version is in print, so I have bought myself a new one:

I'm now wondering what to do with the old one. I could just toss it in the recycling bin - after all it is, in the cold light of day, just a bundle of rather brittle old paper.

Being me, actually I can't do that. However, having purchased a new copy, I have no need for this one, and what's the point of letting it gather dust on my already overladen shelves when I'll probably never open it again, except to muse over it in a nostalgic kind of a way?

So here's where you come in. I'm considering taking the book apart to re-use some of the images or text. Have you ever dismembered a book in this way? It feels like destruction, but if I choose something that feels positive and creative there could be a phoenix-like quality to the things I create. Your ideas please, for the best way to make good use of these pages, and beautiful illustrations:

Should I fill one of those multi-windowed picture frames with the images? Or set small pieces of text or drawings under resin to make jewellery so I can remember the book while I wear fragments of it? Other suggestions? What do you think? What would you do?

Saturday, 31 August 2013

What's the story?

When you buy something in a charity shop, do you ever stop to think about its history? When I hunt in charity shops, there are three things I really look for: books (especially children’s books), fabrics, and drinking glasses. I struck lucky again last week with a couple of hardback Brambly Hedge books, and this beautiful curtain for just £1. The colours remind me of Pat Hutchin's books from the 70s (Rosie's Walk, and Clock & More Clocks are favourites in this house). It joins a gorgeous patchwork quilt (an extortionate £4) as one of my all time favourite finds.

What I love about them most (apart from the price and the sheer serendipity of the find), is thinking about the story behind them. Why are they there, looking all unloved in the corner of a musty smelling charity shop? Whose hands painstakingly stitched this quilt, and what had these squares belonged to in the first place? In quilting terms it's not a masterpiece - it's a simple squares pattern, machine sewn in strips, and quilted using the stitch-in-the-ditch technique; but I love sitting in bed with a cup of tea in my hand, studying the different fabrics and running my hands over them.

Were those flannelette flowers part of a favourite pair of pyjamas? That corduroy the pair of dungarees a toddler learnt to walk in? Who was it made for? How many other people slept beneath it before me? What happened to its owner, that he/she no longer needs it? And how come that pink & orange swirly fabric in the middle is exactly the same as the pattern I remember on the bathroom bin in my parents' house in the 70s?

And this curtain: it’s been handmade with great care (weights in the corners and everything), and still has a row of curtain hooks in the tape at the top, but the tape hasn’t been gathered up, and the threads haven’t been distorted in the way you’d expect when the hooks take the weight of the cloth. So why is there only one, and why has it apparently never been used? And what shall I do now with all this gorgeous fabric?

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Michael Rosen's Sad Book

This week marks the third anniversary of my little sister's suicide. I don't want to write about that, but it does give me a particular reason to share this book with you.

Michael Rosen's Sad Book is, like much of his work, simply written. I don't mean simple as in dumbed down, simplified, it's rather that he doesn't pad out the truth or fluff it up with weasely words. He tells it straight, and it's devastating.

Quentin Blake's illustrations are just stunning in this. If, like me, you think of him as sketching playful, colourful, anarchic happy kids, this will make you see his work in a new light.

I bought it when I was suffering from depression, and it helped. Then I read it again when I was grieving, and it helped some more.

It would be a good book for helping children understand their feelings, showing them different ways sadness can affect them and how they might deal with it; showing them they're not alone, though it might feel like it sometimes. It works pretty well for this adult too.

And the last page will make you cry (if the rest hasn't). But crying isn't always a bad thing.